Samuel Coleridge Taylor was a perfect English gentleman who became a symbol of freedom and emancipation to African Americans in the United States. The most celebrated young British composer of his time, he was a close friend of Holst and Vaughn Williams, championed by Sir Edward Elgar and a sensation with the British public following the overnight success of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. His affinity with Wales and its male voiced choir tradition led him to become a celebrated Adjudicator at the Eisteddfods, once assessing voices from a hole in the ground to ensure impartiality.
Based on original research and with exclusive access to his daughter, Avril, herself a recognised composer, this drama documentary film discovers the essentially private man who was reluctantly drawn onto the wider world stage to become a black icon. He helped found the Pan African Congress with Committee Meetings in the music shed in his garden, and was hailed as the “African Mahler” across the United States, his music helped bridge the divide between countries and cultures. He died of pneumonia aged only 37 in 1912.
This film rediscovers the genius of this man for modern audiences and explores the reasons he was increasingly denied access to the Classical music world as he embraced African American influences in his music. We ask why his music was increasingly passed over after his death and why he is still a well kept secret in the wider music community. We talk to contemporary black British and international composers and singers including Harry Belafonte, Nigel Kennedy and Jessie Norman and ask if the world of classical music is still ring fenced, protecting its own. Using original letters between Samuel and his British wife Jessie, the story of the film is shaped by their love story and constancy in the face of opposition to a mixed race marriage at the turn of the century. There is the potential for developing a CD of contemporary recordings of his greatest works, some of which have never been recorded.