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Black Mahler, republished in January 2012 to mark the centenary of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s passing (1875-1912), dramatically brings to life the true story of this all but forgotten, English composer. Born to a white mother and black father and raised in the London suburb of Croydon, Coleridge-Taylor’s epic choral trilogy, ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ makes this funny, generous and modest young man a worldwide sensation overnight. Although hailed a cultural hero by African Americans, Coleridge struggles against financial ruin, personal tragedy and seismic obstacles throughout his short life.

Along the way, he unites a world.

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This moving story will haunt the memory long after the final page is turned. Norman Lebrecht (cultural commentator, award-winning novelist, Assistant Editor of the London Evening Standard and presenter of Lebrecht Live on BBC Radio 3) said, “It’s an incredibly human story which, in my view, would translate extremely well to film.”

Highly acclaimed international opera director David McVicar said, “Charles Elford has written a lucid and touching account of Coleridge-Taylor's life. A book that deals as much with the social history of Edwardian Britain as it does with music and the art of this unjustly neglected Composer"


15th August. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor born to white English mother and black African father (Dr Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor) in Holborn, London. Soon after this Dr Taylor returns to Sierre Leone and Samuel and his family move to Croydon.


Croydon music teacher Joseph Beckwith meets 5 year old Coleridge-Taylor and starts to give him violin lessons.


Coleridge-Taylor joins choir of St Mary Magdalene, Addiscombe under the baton of Colonel Herbert Walters.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor gives first public performance in local church hall.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor wins a scholarship to Sir George Grove’s Royal College of Music. He was taught Sir Frederick Bridge, Hubert Parry, Walter Parratt and Charles Wood. Coleridge-Taylor publishes his first piece, Te Deum. Fellow students included Gustav Von Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Coleridge-Taylor’s lifelong friend, William Hurlstone.


Novello publishes the first of a series of Coleridge-Taylor’s anthems, In Thee, O Lord, a piece he dedicated to Colonel Walters.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor switches from violin as his first subject to composition under Charles Villiers Stanford.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor starts conducting the Croydon Conservatory Orchestra.  


At his graduation, Coleridge-Taylor tosses a piece of music into the fire because it doesn’t meet with Stanford’s approval. William Hurlstone rescues it. Following his graduation, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor teaches privately in Croydon, at Trinity College and at the Rochester Choral Society. Coleridge-Taylor meets African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and they hold a recital in Great Marlborough Street.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor sets some of Dunbar’s poems (Seven African Romances) and collaborate on an opera, Dream Lovers. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor meets Frederick Loudin and his Fisk Jubilee Singers in London. Their tour introduced African American Spirituals to Coleridge-Taylor and to Europe. He starts ‘courting’ former fellow student Jessie Fleetwood-Walmisely.


Novello’s music editor Auguste Jaegar and Edward Elgar promote the young composer. Coleridge-Taylor receives the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival commission; Ballade in A minor. The success of the piece was repeated at its London premiere at the Crystal Palace on 4th November. A few weeks later, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast was premiered at the Royal College of Music with Stanford conducting. Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert & Sullivan) struggled from his sick bed to attend. This performance made Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and international superstar over night. He was never to earn any royalty payments however, as he had sold the rights to Novello outright for 15 guineas (about £15). The piece’s popularity matched and, arguably exceeded, Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.


The Royal Choral Society commission a sequel to Hiawatha, The Death of Minnehaha. It is premiered at the North Staffordshire Music Festival in Hanley, then taken to the Royal Albert Hall and the Duchess of Sutherland. Jaegar and Elgar appear to withdraw their support.

31st December at 11am, Jessie and Coleridge are married at Holy Trinity, Selhurst.


Hiawatha’s Departure is published creating a trilogy. First American performance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast is in Boston on 12th March. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is organiser and delegate of the first Pan-African Conference in London. He becomes familiar with Frederick Douglass, the writings of Booker T Washington and is sent a copy of The Souls of Black Folks (DuBois) by Mamie and Andrew Hilyer, founders of the Washington choral society, The Treble Clef Club (later the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society). With Duse Mohammed, Coleridge-Taylor founds The African & Orient Review, a Pan-African newspaper. Coleridge-Taylor first appears as an adjudicator at the Welsh Eisteddford. Jessie gives birth to a boy, Hiawatha or ‘Watha’ for short.


The Hiawatha Trilogy known as The Song Hiawatha now complete with new Overture, is performed in its entirety at Birmingham where it totally eclipses Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. Famous actor/manager, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree engages Coleridge-Taylor to write incidental music for his plays, starting with Herod.


Meg Blane – A Seaside Rhapsody.  


In addition to existing teaching, writing, composing, adjudicating and performance engagements, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor also takes on the role of Professor of Composition at Trinity College of Music in London and the role of conductor to the Handel Society. 23rd April, 2000 crowd into the Metropolitan African Methodist Church in Washington to hear the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society sing The Song of Hiawatha. The Atonement was not well-received because Christ was portrayed by a baritone. Coleridge-Taylor starts subsidising the Croydon Symphony Orchestra to ensure its survival. Jessie gives birth to a girl, Gwendolen.


The 200th performance of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast in England alone. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor visits the USA for the first time (Washington) at the invitation of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society. His reception is overwhelming. The African American community adopted him as a cultural icon and symbol of hope from oppression. He has a private and unprecedented audience with President Roosevelt who expressed his desire for more liberal attitudes towards people of colour. He meets Booker T Washington. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s father dies.


Five Choral Ballads; Twenty-four Negro melodies. Coleridge-Taylor becomes Professor of Composition at Crystal Palace School of Art and Music.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor visits tours the USA – St Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Milwaukee and Toronto. Coleridge meets William Hurlstone’s sister in Bournemouth. Paul Laurence Dunbar dies. William Hurlstone has a massive asthma attack on the grand stairway between the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal College of Music (where he was a Professor), and dies aged 29.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor completes his opera 'Thelma'. This piece was considered lost until recently rediscovered by Catherine Carr in the British Library. Patrick Meadows and Lionel Harrison hope to perform 'Thelma' for SCT's centenary in 2012.


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor becomes Professor of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music. Coleridge-Taylor plays the violin in tribute at Auguste Jaegar’s memorial service. Coleridge-Taylor returns to the USA for the third (and final time), to conduct the Litchfield County Choral Union sing The Song of Hiawatha at the Norfolk Music Festival as the guest of Carl and Ellen Stoeckel.


A Tale of Old Japan premiered in Croydon. Not only is he not permitted to conduct, but he has to pay for his own seat at the concert. A  Concerto is commissioned by the Stoeckels for violinist Maud Powell and the Norfolk Music Festival.  


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor responds to a racist letter published in the Croydon Guardian from a vicar on behalf of the Purley Debating Society regarding, ‘...the negro problem in North America...’. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor has a dream where William Hurlstone comes to him. Coleridge believes this foretells his own premature death. The Violin Concerto is rejected by the Stoeckels and so Coleridge re-writes it but it is lost on the Titanic - he has to write it a third time.

28th August, Coleridge collapses on the platform of West Croydon train station. He struggles home, but dies four days later on 1st September, from pneumonia brought on by exhaustion. He was 37.

5th September, hundreds of people turn out for his funeral.

The success of the Violin Concerto in America was equalled by its success that October when it was conducted by Sir Henry Wood at the Queen’s Hall in London.

£1,400 was raised for Jessie and the children through a memorial concert and through the sale of some previously unpublished works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.  

The legacy

Despite her letter-writing to The Times, Jessie Coleridge-Taylor maintained that Novello consistently refused to grant her royalties on The Song of Hiawatha. In 1914, the Performing Rights Society was formed in Great Britain with the aim of ensuring musicians were paid a fair price for their work and Jessie Coleridge-Taylor was granted a Civil List Pension of £100 per annum by King George V.


The piece of music that was rescued from the fire by William Hurlstone, found its way back into the hands of the Coleridge-Taylor family.

Gwen later changed her name due to the ‘treatment’ she said she received from her mother. She died in 1998. Hiawatha Coleridge-Taylor died in 1980.

Until the outbreak of World War II,The Song of Hiawatha, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent, was the centre piece of the Royal Albert Hall’s summer programme. It was a hugely lavish affair with a vast chorus in full costume, actors, dancers, lakes, waterfalls, falling snow and an epic backdrop slung from one side of the hall to the other; depicting a Victorian/Edwardian dream of a Native American idyll.

Since the war, both The Song of Hiawatha and its composer have faded into obscurity.... Until now.

You’ve read the history, now meet the man himself in Charles Elford’s new book Black Mahler: The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story.

Historical Timeline

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a prolific composer throughout his brief life, so it should be noted that only a fraction of what he wrote is listed below.

© Charles Elford 2011

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (leading commentator on race and multiculturalism; writing regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and London Observer and broadcasting on BBC Radio 4 and World Service) said ‘If it was fiction you wouldn’t believe this stirring story. A mixed race gifted composer, with the most English of names, makes his mark against the odds and yet, like so many other such geniuses, is brought down, too, too soon. All should know the legend that was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Most don’t and that’s the greatest pity of all.’

Mr N Dashwood, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s grandson, said on 03/10/08 ‘It was wonderful reading and towards the end I just could not put it down. It was like being at home in that house again. I could picture it room by room. The imagination on Charles Elford’s part was incredible; because everything was so absolutely accurate in every detail. I wondered where he got his information from. It was more than just a pleasure it was like going back in time.’

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Radio Interviews

Rosemary Laryea for Colourful Radio 23/08/12

Lynn Wallis-Eade for BBC Radio Kent’s faith-based The Sunday Programme, 19/10/08.

John McLaughlin Williams (Grammy Award winning conductor & violinist) said, ‘A sensitive and knowing account of the eventful life of the Afro-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Elford's narrative flows smoothly and cinematically; in telling the story, his prose evokes pastel colors well suited to what has come down to us as a tale of a once celebrated artist's faded glory. In Black Mahler, Charles Elford has done a great service to Coleridge-Taylor…. It is the best introduction to the composer to date.’ See more on the Reviews Page.

Charles Elford Talks About SC-T And Marking August 23 by Taobq on Mixcloud