George Walker was a pioneering American composer, pianist, and educator who made history by becoming the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. His groundbreaking work and achievements have left a lasting impact on the world of classical music.

Early life and Education

George Theophilus Walker was born on June 27, 1922, in Washington, D.C. His mother, Rosa King Walker, was a piano teacher, and his father, George Walker, Sr., was a physician. From a young age, Walker showed exceptional musical talent and began studying piano with his mother at the age of five.

After graduating from Dunbar High School, Walker went on to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of music, where he earned a Bachelor of music degree in 1941. He then continued his studies at the Curtis Institute of music in Philadelphia, where he studied piano with Rudolf Serkin and composition with Rosario Scalero.

music Career

Throughout his career, George Walker composed over 90 works, including symphonies, chamber music, piano pieces, and vocal works. His music is known for its emotional depth, lyrical beauty, and innovative use of harmony and form.

One of Walker’s most famous works is his “Lilacs” for voice and orchestra, which was inspired by the poem of the same name by Walt Whitman. The piece was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1996 and has since become a staple of the American classical music repertoire.

Pulitzer Prize Win

In 1996, George Walker made history by becoming the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music for his composition “Lilacs.” The award was a groundbreaking moment in the history of classical music and brought Walker’s work to a wider audience.

Upon receiving the Pulitzer Prize, Walker said, “I hope this will encourage black composers who have been overlooked. I hope it will encourage young composers, black and white.”

Legacy and Impact

George Walker’s legacy extends far beyond his Pulitzer Prize win. He was a trailblazer for African American composers and musicians, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations. His music continues to be performed and celebrated around the world, ensuring that his contributions to the classical music canon will never be forgotten.

In addition to his work as a composer, Walker was also a dedicated educator, teaching at prestigious institutions such as the Peabody Institute, Rutgers University, and the Smith College Department of music.


Q: What other awards did George Walker win during his career?

A: In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, George Walker was the recipient of numerous other awards and honors, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Fromm music Foundation Award, and the Guggenheim Fellowship.

Q: Was George Walker the only member of his family involved in music?

A: No, George Walker came from a musical family. His mother, Rosa King Walker, was a piano teacher, and his brother, Dr. Hugh Walker, was a violinist and musicologist.

Q: What is George Walker’s most famous composition?

A: While “Lilacs” is perhaps George Walker’s most famous composition, he composed many other notable works, including his Piano Sonata No. 1, his String Quartet No. 1, and his Sinfonia No. 4.