Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (15 August 1875 – 1 September 1912) was an English composer and conductor.
There were numerous musicians on his mother’s side and her father played the violin. His grandfather started teaching Samuel violin when he was young. His ability was obvious, and Taylor soon graduated to professional violin lessons. The extended family arranged for Taylor to study at the Royal College of Music, beginning at the age of 15. He changed from violin to composition, working under professor Charles Villiers Stanford. After completing his degree, Taylor became a professional musician, soon being appointed a professor at the Crystal Palace School of Music; and conducting the orchestra at the Croydon Conservatoire.
Of mixed race birth, Coleridge-Taylor achieved such success that he was referred to by white New York musicians as the “African Mahler” when he had three tours of the United States in the early 1900s. He was particularly known for his three cantatas on the epic poem, Song of Hiawatha by American Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Coleridge-Taylor premiered the first section in 1898, when he was 22.
In 1904, on his first tour to the United States, Coleridge-Taylor was received by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, a rare event in those days for a man of African descent. His music was widely performed and he had great support among African Americans. Coleridge-Taylor sought to draw from traditional African music and integrate it into the classical tradition, which he considered Johannes Brahms to have done with Hungarian music and Antonín Dvořák with Bohemian music. Having met the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in London, Taylor set some of his poems to music. A joint recital between Taylor and Dunbar was arranged in London, under the patronage of US Ambassador John Milton Hay. It was organized by Henry Francis Downing, an African-American playwright and London resident. Dunbar and other black people encouraged Coleridge-Taylor to draw from his Sierra Leonean ancestry and the music of the African continent.