Ever heard of George Walker? Decades ago, he accomplished something no African-American had ever done

George Walker at rehearsal with the Juilliard Orchestra in 2007. (Photo by Hiroyuki Ito). (Getty Images)

George Walker probably could’ve been doing many things in his early 70s that were way more relaxing.

Instead, he honed his musical genius -- so much that he eventually achieved something that no other Black man had ever attained.

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This year marks 28 years since Walker, in 1996, became the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Walker achieved the honor for creating “Lilacs,” a composition that was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The composition was based off Walt Whitman’s 1865 poem, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” which was written after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Walker was 74 when he was given the honor and it punctuated a celebrated career in music.

After starting piano lessons at age 5, Walker ultimately created nearly 100 compositions, according to NPR.

He was the first Black pianist to play a recital at New York’s Town Hall and became the first Black instrumentalist to play solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

At age 14, Walker gave his first public recital at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Walker eventually passed away in 2018 at the age of 96, with his legacy as a trailblazer for Black musicians forever etched.

This story was first published in 2021. It has since been updated.

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

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