Two symbols of black emancipation – later challenged by white forces – were initially encountered. As a young man in high school, conductor Everett Lee trained with three-year-old Jesse Owens on the athletics team, embarrassing white supremacist Hitler by winning four Olympic titles in Nazi Berlin. Lee told his son that he was suffering from shortness of breath every day, and Owens was walking steadily near him, still breathing enough to encourage him. “Come on, Everett, come on.”
Lee’s talent was not in athletics, but in classical music, which was a white fort rather than white. As the first black conductor on Broadway in the mid-1940s he broke many ethnic lines. A decade later, Lee performed the African-American Scoop with a symphony orchestra at the racist South, Louisville and a large opera house, the New York City Opera.
But the mind is not yet mature enough to appoint him as an art director somewhere. Famous music writer Oscar Homerstein II once took him to a party and said, “We want to let you do our shows, but no theater will book us when we tour the South.” The best impressorio and orchestra manager Arthur Jutson cheated on him. “You get great reviews and you have charisma,” he confirmed. “But I tell you right now: I do not trust black conductors for white bands. You can dance and sing alone, but not as a violinist.
That’s why Lee himself started a group. The Cosmopolitan Symphony Society consisted of musicians of Chinese, Russian, Jewish, African, Italian, and Slavic descent, as well as women without access to orchestras. Black newspaper Amsterdam News In 1947 he declared the first concert in Harlem a historic event.
Lee combined European heritage with the work of black composers. “It’s not enough to make money with this,” he wrote to his lawyer, friend, host and composer Leonard Bernstein. “But this band will become the starting point for breaking many nonsensical boundaries.”
But the racial barriers lasted for a while. Lee did not become chief executive in Europe until he went to work at a traveling opera house in Munich in 1956. He found a second home in Sweden in the early 1960s, where he conducted the Norcoping Symphony Orchestra for thirteen years. There, Lee said, it could finally be held without “racial issues.” Although he flew to bands around the world, he continued to live in Sweden throughout his life. In 2005, he performed his last concert with the Louisville Orchestra, half a century before Everett Lee became the first black conductor in the Southern State.
He is 105. Wheeling, his hometown in West Virginia, declared his birthday (August 31) as Everett Lee’s Day five years ago.
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