Orchestral Music by Women of African Descent

Orchestral Music by Women of African Descent (listed alphabetically)
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Eleanor Alberga (b. 1949)  Contemporary Jamaican composer and pianist

Works for Orchestra include:

  • Arise Athens! (with chorus, commissioned for “Last Night of the Proms” 2015 and broadcast live over BBC radio and TV, https://clyp.it/cd2hw52i ).
  • Roald Dahls’s Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs
  • Violin Concerto no.1
  • Mythologies
  • Sun Warrior (chamber orchestra)
  • Chamber ensemble version of Roald Dahl’s “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs”
  • “For further details, scores and parts, email: [email protected]


Regina A. Harris Baiocchi (b. 1956

Chicago based composer, works performed by Detroit and Chicago Symphonies

http://reginaharrisbaiocchi.com/     [email protected]

Orchestral works include:

  • “African Hands” (Concerto for Hand Drummer and Orchestra), performed by the  Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra
  • “Muse” and “Orchestral Suite,” both performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972)

Born in Chicago, and working extensively in New York City, Bonds was a composer, pianist and teacher.  She studied with Florence Price and collaborated extensively with Langston Hughes.

  • Montgomery Variations. 1965.  Written for the March on Montgomery, AL and dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “The Ballad of the Brown King,” Cantata.  Libretto by Langston Hughes. Composed 1954, expanded in 1960 for televised performance.
  • Variations on spiritual “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.”   Selections titled Prayer Meeting, March, One Sunday in the South, Dawn in Dixie.
  • Scripture Reading (chamber orchestra).  1971.  A medley incorporating four spirituals based on the biblical characters Ezekiel, King David, Peter, and Joshua.
  • Credo for chorus and orchestra (1972), performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
  • Troubled water, originally for piano, arr. by the composer for orchestra, 1966.


Valerie Coleman  https://www.vcolemanmusic.com/works.html 

Named Performance Today‘s 2020 Classical Woman of the year, and is the creator of the wind quintetImani Winds. Listed as “one of the Top 35 Women Composers” in the Washington Post.

Avril Coleridge-Taylor (1903-1998), British composer, pianist and conductor of African heritage.

  • To April, (1933)Sussex Landscape: Piano Concerto in F minor, op. 27 (1936)
  • Wyndore (Windover) for choir and orchestra
  • Golden Wedding Ballet Suite, for orchestra
  • Ceremonial March (1957, celebrating Ghanaian independence)


Cynthia Cozette Lee (b. 1953)

Contemporary composer, born in Pittsburgh.  First Black woman to earn a Master’s Degree in composition from the University of Pennsylvania, and the first Black student of George Crumb.

Orchestral works include:

  • The Martyr, for baritone and orchestra
  • Ebony Reflections, for chamber orchestra
  • Nepenthe Concerto, for piano and orchestra
  • Works are not published, but are registered and held by the Library of Congress


Tania Leon (b. 1943 in Cuba.  Based in New York City since 1967)


Ácana (2008) 12:49   2(pic)-2-2(b cl)-2; 2-2-1; 2 perc, pf; str.  Commissioned by the Research Foundation of SUNY- Purchase College and Orpheus with support from the New York State Music Fund.  Premiered in Carnegie Hall.

Batá (1985, rev. 1988) 7:00.  2(pic)-2(eh)-2(b cl)-2; 2-2-2-1; 2 perc, hp, pf, cel; str.  Commissioned by the Bay Area Women’s Philharmonic (later The Women’s Philharmonic)

Carabalí (1991) 17:00. 2(pic)-2,eh-2,b cl-2,cbn; 4-3-3-1; timp-3 perc-hp-pf-cel; str.  Commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Concerto Criollo (1980) 20:00. Solo timp-solo pf-, 2-2-2-2; 4-4-3-0; perc; str.  Commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts

Desde… (2001) 18:00. 2(pic)-2(eh)-2(b cl)-2(cbn); 4-2-3-0; timp-2 perc; str.  Commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra with support from the Koussevitsky Music Foundation, Inc.

Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel (arr. León) (2005) 3:00. Bar solo; 3-2-2-2; 2-2-3-0; timp; str.   Commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra

Horizons (1999) 10:00.  Commissioned by the NDR Sinfonie Orchester, Hamburg, and Hammoniale Festival der Frauen, Germany

Kabiosile (1988) 8:00.  Solo pf; 2(pic)-2(eh)-2(b cl)-2(cbn); 4-2-3-0; timp-2 perc; str.  Commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra

Para Viola y Orquesta (1994) 18:00. Va solo; 2(pic, A fl)-2-2(b cl)-2(cbn); 2-2-1-0; timp-2 perc-cel; str. Commissioned by Meet-the-Composer / Reader’s Digest

Seven Spirituals (arr. Ryan, orch. León) (1995) 20:00.  Bar solo (or B Bar); 2(pic)-1-1-1; 2-2-1-1; 2 perc-pf, str.  For the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra


Jessie Montgomery (b. 1982)


Banner (2014), commissioned by  the Sphinx Organization and the Joyce Foundation

For solo string quartet and string orchestra.

Strum (2006; revised 2012), for string orchestra

Starburst (2012).  Commissioned by the Sphinx Organization; for string orchestra.

12 Moods (2015).  Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act: A Musical and Storytelling Tribute and Celebration.    4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, double bass.

Soulforce (2015), commissioned by The Dream Unfinished, a benefit for civil rights. For full orchestra.  2015.


Dorothy Rudd Moore (b. 1940)

Contemporary composer.  One of the co-founders of the Society of Black Composers.  Works are unpublished, but available through the American Composers Alliance


Works include pieces for orchestra and opera


Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989)

“Scenes from the Life of a Martyr,” (1982) oratorio for chorus, orchestra, narrator, and four soloists; composed in memory of Martin Luther King Jr..  Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.



Nkeiru Okoye (b. 1972)


The Journey of Phillis Wheatley (2005).  With text by Okoye and Carolivia Herron.  This piece is a delightful introduction to the instruments of the orchestra, used to tell the story of the colonial era poet, the first African American to be the author of a book.

Songs of Harriet Tubman, for sop, orch. (from opera, Harriet Tubman), 2008.

Harriet Tubman (opera), 2013.


Julia Perry (1924-1979)

Several works for orchestra are available through PeerMusic (http://www.peermusicclassical.com), other works available through the Philadelphia Free Library.

A Short Piece for Large Orchestra (1943)

Homage to Vivaldi

Stabat Mater (Mezzo and strings, 1954)

Study for Orchestra (performance by the NY Philharmonic  )

Symphony No. 4


Zenobia Powell Perry (1908-2004)

Composer, professor, and civil rights activist, African-American and Creek Native American heritage.    Works were performed by Cleveland Chamber Symphony and Detroit Symphony.  More information about compositions here: http://www.zenobiapowellperry.org/compositions.html

Works are available to rent/buy from Jaygayle Music:  http://jaygaylemusic.com

Arkansia; Suite (1955). Originally for violin and piano, Orchestrated for string orchestra

Echoes from the Journey, for soprano and chamber orchestra (1990). Duration:  14:03. Instrumentation: flute, oboe, Bb cl, trumpet, two percussion players, strings, and piano.   “Field Hollers,”  “Wade in the Water,” “I Want to Die Easy,” and “Swing Low, Sweet

Chariot.” Premiered by Cleveland Chamber Symphony, 1991.

Pastels for orchestra (1986). 2 fl, 2 ob, 2 Bb cl, bass  cl, 2 bns, 4 hrns, 2 tpt in Bb, 3 trmb, tuba, timpani,  strings.  Duration: 6:20.

Ships That Pass in the Night, for instrumental ensemble and narrator (1988). Text: Paul Laurence Dunbar.   Performed by Cleveland Chamber Symphony. [This is a

            revised version of her Symphonic Poem.] Duration: 8:16.

Tawawa House, opera in 2 acts (1985). Text: Zenobia Powell Perry.

Tranquility and Commotion for orchestra.  Commissioned by the Columbus Symphony, premiered in November 1982.  Duration: 18:00.

Florence Price (1887-1953) 

Scores of Symphonies 1 and 3 are available from AR Editions.  http://www.areditions.com/special-interests/women-composers/price-symphonies-nos-1-and-3-mu19-a066.html

As of 2019, most other music is controlled by G. Schirmer, and available through https://www.wisemusicclassical.com/composer/4938/Florence-Price/

Mississippi River  (The River And The Songs Of Those Dwelling Upon Its Banks)(1934), Symphonic tone poem, available through the Philadelphia Free Library.

The Oak (1934), Symphonic tone poem, available through the Philadelphia Free Library.

Concerto in One Movement, for piano and orchestra

Symphony in E minor

“Dances in the Cane Breaks,” Price’s Suite for Solo Piano, orchestrated by William Grant Still, available from William Grant Still music.


Irene Britton Smith (1907-1999)

            Chicago-based composer and teacher.

Sinfonietta in three movements for orchestra (1956)

Errollyn Wallen – ‘renaissance woman of contemporary British music’ (The Observer). Born in Belize, she studied composition at the universities of London and Cambridge.. She has been commissioned by outstanding music institutions from the BBC to the Royal Opera House.

Mary Watkins (b.1939)  https://marydwatkins.com/ 

Composer and Jazz pianist, based in Oakland, CA.

“One episode of an inner journey,” for orchestra (1986).  Score and parts at Free Library of Philadelphia.  https://know.freelibrary.org/Record/1458620

Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story. Opera.

“Five Movements in Color.” (orchestral Suite, 1994).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=by0xgq_Pu8k