OBITUARY: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, 1932-2004



Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson

The Center for Black Music Research of Columbia College in Chicago reports that Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson passed away on March 9, 2004, of cancer. He had served the Center since 1998 as its Artistic Director, Performance Program.

Perkinson was born in New York in 1932. After graduating from New York’s High School for Music and Art he studied composition at the Manhattan School of Music, receiving his bachelor’s degree in music in 1953 and a master’s degree in composition in 1954. He later studied conducting at the Berkshire Music Center, at the Salzburg Mozarteum, and with Franco Ferrara and Dean Dixon. From 1965 to 1970, he was co-founder and associate conductor for the Symphony of the New World and served as its acting music director during the 1972-73 season. At various times in his career he also served as music director or composer-in-residence for the Negro Ensemble Company, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and for productions at the American Theatre Lab, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and the Goodman Theatre. At the time of his death he was also composer-in-residence for the Ritz Chamber Players of Jacksonville, Florida.

Perkinson’s composing career began in high school, when his composition, And Behold, won the High School for Music and Art choral competition in 1948. His career demonstrates his versatility as a composer of classical music, popular music, theater and film music, and jazz. He composed and arranged for a variety of jazz and popular artists including Harry Belafonte, Donald Byrd, and Marvin Gaye (for whom he arranged Gaye’s first platinum album, I Want You, issued in 1976 on the Motown label). He served as pianist for the Max Roach Jazz Quartet in 1964-65. He composed and conducted scores for a number of award-winning theatrical, television, and documentary and feature films, including A Warm December, starring Sidney Poitier (1972). He also served as guest conductor for numerous orchestras all over the world. His classical compositions have been recorded by the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, flutist Harold Jones, pianists John Cheek and Karen Walwyn, and cellist Anthony Elliott.

At the Center for Black Music Research, Perkinson was artistic advisor to Ensemble Stop-Time, the Center’s grant-funded ensemble formed to explore the commonalities between the various black vernacular music forms, including jazz and gospel. In 1999, he began his tenure as conductor and music director of the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble, a group of musicians dedicated to performing a spectrum of music by black composers, from popular music and jazz to concert music. The Ensemble staged a successful series of 34 concerts in Chicago, at the South Shore Cultural Center, Buntrock Hall of Symphony Center, and other venues. The Ensemble also performed for members of congress in Washington, D.C. and in New York City. In 2001, he conducted the Ensemble’s world-premiere concert performance of Doxology: The Doxy Canticles, an opera with libretto by Paul Carter Harrison and music by Wendell Logan.

Survivors include a daughter, Joetté Thompson, a son-in-law, Henry Allen Thompson, and two grandchildren, LaFrance T. Smith III (Trey) and Skylar Thompson, all of Kansas City, Missouri; a sister, Beverly Perkinson Thomas, two nieces, Monica and Michelle Thomas, and one nephew, Curtis Thomas, all of Houston, Texas; cousins; other family members; and a host of friends.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Courtesy of the Center for Black Music Research of Columbia College