“It is given but to few men in so short a time to create for themselves a position of such prominence on two continents…” Booker T. Washington, 1904
I use the term Crowned with Fame because it is the title of a play by Michael Ellis (with superb direction by Sue Pomeroy of later National Theatre fame under Sir Peter Hall), which was first produced by the Good Company at the Battersea Arts Centre in 1987 and then on a UK tour in February 1988. That tour included one performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. It was a show I remember with delight: a genuine coming together of the man and his music. Sadly, after that tour the play sunk into theatrical oblivion — as many do — and is seldom listed on Ellis’s online credits.
Crowned with Fame unquestioningly inspired me to write more drama (I had two plays already under my belt, with one a minor success at the Edinburgh Fringe) and listen to more of Coleridge Taylor’s music: music that similarly inspired Sue Pomeroy to find out more about him. She has written:
“It was while working at the Croydon Warehouse Theatre as its Artistic Director that I came across Coleridge Taylor and his music. When I first heard about this extraordinary composer, I was somewhat confused. A composer who had lived in Croydon all his life? How was it I had never heard of him? A composer who was British and also black? I didn’t know such a phenomenon existed. I asked friends and Colleagues, but few knew his name, or if they did, it reminded them of the romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Yet the more I found out about Coleridge Taylor, the more interested I became.”
My own experience of discovering (or more correctly re-discovering) Samuel Coleridge Taylor came about in 1984 with the publication of Jerrold Northrop Moore’s exhaustive biography of Elgar, Edward Elgar: A Creative Life, which highlighted over many pages Elgar’s encouragement of the younger composer. When I read that biography, I realised that I had heard the music of Samuel Coleridge Taylor before. It was of course his cantata, Hiawatha (Op.30), that used sections of Henry Longfellow’s hugely popular long poem, followed by several more pieces that expand on the Hiawatha and Minnehaha stories, which quickly became great favourites on the concert and festival platforms of the…