Schuyler, Philippa

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Philippa Duke Schuyler (1931-1967) was an African-American pianist, composer, journalist and author. Her father George Schuyler was also a noted playwright and journalist.

Philippa Schuyler was born on August 2nd, 1931 to Josephine Cogdell Schuyler and George S. Schuyler. Josephine was a white Texan from a ranching and banking family and George Schuyler was a highly esteemed black journalist. Philippa, therefore, was of mixed race. Josephine was extraordinarily attentive to Philippa’s education and Philippa showed herself to be remarkably gifted. At two years old, Philippa was featured in New York newspapers for her exceptional spelling abilities. By the age of four, Philippa was a noted pianist playing public recitals and radio broadcasts, usually playing some of her own well-received compositions. At age eight, her IQ was tested to be 185. The media had branded her a child prodigy.

Her parents, particularly Josephine, eschewed terms like prodigy or genius for their daughter and instead attributed Philippa’s exceptional talents to a diet of raw food and a "careful education." Josephine was quoted by the New York Herald Tribune, in one of Philippa’s earliest appearances in the newspapers (August 3, 1934), as saying "she’s not a genius or a prodigy or anything like that. It’s just taking pains and keeping her well." Then, a few months later in the scrapbook, Josephine pasted a typed report of Philippa’s development in which she complained, "People insist on calling you a prodigy. I think it is because that is easier to understand. " She also pasted a clipping about child prodigies into the scrapbook with the accompanying caption: "Discouraging forecasts about child prodigies, you are included, although I have tried to make it clear to everyone that I do not consider you a prodigy- but the public loves magic and the newspapers must cater to the limitations of their readers."

The family lived in Harlem, New York. George spent most of Philippa's childhood traveling as a correspondent journalist and lecturer. As a child, Philippa had no contact with her mother’s family (with the exception of one of Josephine's sisters who visited Harlem once when Philippa was three years old). George’s family, particularly his sister Louise, visited regularly and were close to Philippa. Other guests of the Schuyler household included prominent African-American figures and other intellectuals. Philippa had extremely limited contact with other young children.

Philippa spent very few years in schools but instead had private tutors visit the apartment in Harlem. These tutors, in addition to a variety of music instructors, were affordable for the Schuylers only with Philippa’s performance income. Having Philippa perform so many concerts was a point of dispute between Josephine and several of Philippa’s piano teachers. Those teachers argued that despite Philippa’s diligent and rigorous practicing schedule, the steady stream of concerts negatively affected her musical education by inflating her confidence and interrupting her study of technique. Even so, the critics lauded her performances consistently, praising her obvious propensity for music.

By the time she had proven herself to be more than just a child prodigy, Philippa faced the injustice of racism when trying to book performances as a talented young pianist. Throughout the 1950s, she booked tours throughout South America and Europe with strong audience turnouts and excellent reviews, but was consistently unable to find sponsorship from white organizations in the United States.

In her thirties, Philippa changed careers from exclusively being a concert pianist to also working as a journalist like her father. She worked for the Manchester Union Leader of New Hampshire and was a correspondent to Vietnam when, in 1967, she died in a helicopter crash near Da Nang. She was helping escort young Vietnamese orphans to safety when the U.S. Army helicopter low-leveled into the ocean at a very high speed. Philippa, the young boy who had been sitting on her lap, and twenty year old Pfc. Michael Elmy drowned.

After Philippa’s sudden death, Josephine wrote a series of memorial poetry dedicated to her beloved daughter. Josephine took her own life in 1969. George Schuyler died in 1977.

From the guide to the Philippa Schuyler Collection, 1930-1970, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Musser, Laura Jane, 1916-1989. Laura Jane Musser and family papers, 1842-1989. Minnesota Historical Society Library
creatorOf Walker-Hill, Helen. Collection. 1887- Columbia College Chicago
referencedIn George S. Schuyler Papers, 1912-1976. Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
creatorOf Philippa Schuyler Collection, 1930-1970 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Laura Jane Musser and family papers., 1842-1989 (bulk 1880-1989). Minnesota Historical Society.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Musser, Laura Jane, 1916-1989. person
associatedWith Schuyler, George Samuel, 1895- person
associatedWith Walker-Hill, Helen person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
African Americans
Music
African American authors
Women authors
African American journalists
Women journalists
Women pianists
Journalism
Pianists--United States
Occupation
Authors
Pianists
Function

Person

Active 1887

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