Boatner, Edward

Dates:
Birth 1898
Death 1981

Biographical notes:

Edward Hammond Boatner was a composer, choral conductor, music professor and singer. He was also the author of plays, music instruction materials and essays regarding African-American history. Born in 1898 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Boatner taught himself to play the piano, and began collecting spirituals at an early age. He published his first arrangement of a spiritual, "Give Me Jesus," in 1918. After a period of study in Boston, Boatner moved to Chicago, where he earned his Bachelor's degree from the Chicago College of Music in 1932. He also served as director of music for the National Baptist Convention from 1925-33.

Boatner was a member of the music faculty at Samuel Huston College from 1933-35, and at Wiley College from 1936-37. During the late 1930's, he settled permanently in New York, where he provided private musical instruction through the Edward Boatner Studio. His students included Metropolitan Opera singer George Shirley, as well as performers Josephine Baker, Clifton Webb and Libby Holman.

Boatner arranged nearly three hundred spirituals, many of which have been performed and recorded by various artists. His "Freedom Suite," an original classical work for narrator, soloists, chorus and orchestra, with lyrics by Rudolf Schramm, premiered in 1967 at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. Boatner's musical plays include "The Man From Nazareth" and "The Origin of the Spirituals." He also wrote thirty textbooks in the areas of music theory, composition, pedagogy and piano technique. He was active as a teacher and conductor of choral groups until his death on June 16, 1981 in New York, N.Y. Best known among his children was the jazz saxophonist, Edward "Sonny" Stitt.

From the description of Edward Boatner papers, 1941-1980. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122607707

Edward Hammond Boatner was born November 13, 1898 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was active as a composer, choral conductor and singer. He was also the author of plays, stories and music instruction materials, as well as essays concerning African-American history.

Boatner's father, Dr. Daniel Webster Boatner, was an itinerant minister who took his family with him on his travels from church to church. Impressed by the singing he heard in those churches, Boatner began to collect spirituals at an early age. He was educated in the public schools of St. Louis, Missouri, where his family lived during his childhood. He also attended the public schools of Kansas City, Kansas, where his family later moved. Upon graduation in 1916, Boatner took lessons in voice and piano at Western University in Quindaro, Kansas, for a short time. Later that year Boatner sang for the famous tenor Roland Hayes, who encouraged the young baritone to continue his vocal studies in Boston. Boatner followed Hayes' advice, and moved to Boston in 1917.

During his first year in Boston, Boatner studied with instructors at the New England Conservatory of Music. In 1918, at the age of 20, he published his first arrangement of a spiritual, entitled Give Me Jesus. The Boston Conservatory of Music awarded Boatner with a one-year scholarship in 1921. Continuing his studies at the Longy School of Music the following year, Boatner met composer and pianist Robert Nathaniel Dett, who became a mentor and coach. The two musicians performed a sucessful series of concerts together throughout the New England states.

In 1925, Boatner moved to Chicago, in order to complete his formal education. He earned his Bachelor's degree in music from the Chicago College of Music in 1932. During his student years in Chicago, Boatner directed the choirs at Olivet Baptist Church, and concertized widely as a singer. His reputation grew during the years 1925-1933, when he was director of music for the National Baptist Convention.

In 1933, Boatner was appointed director of music at Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas. He later taught at the Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, where he was appointed Dean of Music. During the late 1930s, he settled permanently in New York City, where he opened the Edward Boatner Studio. Through the studio, he organized and trained choral groups, and gave private instruction in piano and voice to young musicians and actors. His students included Metropolitan opera tenor George Shirley, as well as performers Josephine Baker, Clifton Webb, and Libby Holman. Boatner was also director of music at the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York.

Boatner arranged nearly three hundred spirituals, including Oh, What A Beautiful City, On Ma Journey, Plenty Good Room, Soon-a Will Be Done, and Tramping. His arrangements have been performed and recorded by such artists as Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Leontyne Price and Nelson Eddy. His collections of arrangements include Thirty Afro-American Choral Spirituals, and Spirituals Triumphant, Old And New. One of his original compositions, Freedom Suite, was published in 1964, and performed at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., in 1967. His musical plays include The Man From Nazareth and The Origin Of the Spirituals.

Boatner wrote thirty textbooks in the areas of music theory, composition, pedagogy and piano technique. Other writings include Great Achievements in Black And White, The Damaging Results Of Racism, Black Humor, and a novel entitled One Drop Of Blood.

Throughout his career, Boatner won awards from the National Federation of Music Clubs, the National Association of Negro Musicians, the Brooklyn Lyceum, the Detroit Association of Musicians, and the New York Uptown Musicians, among others. In 1979 he was honored by the Chicago branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians.

Boatner's daughter Adelaide, and a son, Clifford became concert artists. Best known was his son, jazz saxophonist Edward “Sonny” Stitt. Boatner died on June 16, 1981, in New York, New York. A memorial service honoring his life and achievements was held at Olivet Baptist Church, in Chicago, on Sunday, February 19, 1984.

From the guide to the Edward Boatner papers, 1941-1980, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

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Subjects:

  • Composers
  • Music--Instruction and study
  • Music teachers
  • African American authors
  • African American composers
  • African Americans--Music

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