The Life and Legacy of H.T. Burleigh (1866-1949)


Harry Thacker (H.T.) Burleigh is a name that joins countless others on a list of understudied composers and performers throughout history. Best known for his arrangements of concert spirituals, Burleigh was also a prolific composer of art songs who served as a role model and inspiration for many African American musicians and artists in the early 20th century. Spending most of his career in New York, he also moved within a very talented network of African American artists and musicians during a period of cultural revival in African American circles known as the Harlem Renaissance. One hundred and twenty-seven years after Burleigh made his debut performance on Carnegie Hall’s stage, we are still trying to unravel his life and legacy. Too often, we reduce marginalized composers to the struggles they faced during their time. By looking at Burleigh’s successes and the interactions that he had on an everyday basis, we can get a better sense of the powerful normalcy that he was able to achieve as a respected performer during a turbulent, formative period in American music history.

Our project approaches Burleigh’s life and career through a new critical lens by mapping the places he lived, worked, and performed. From Burleigh’s musical beginnings in Erie, Pennsylvania to famous concert hall stages where he and contemporaries like Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and Roland Hayes showcased his works, we hope that the following series of maps helps shed some light on the accomplishments and importance of the work that Burleigh did during his lifetime.