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Black Mahler written by Charles Elford

© Charles Elford 2011

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

“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.”

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).


Norman Lebrecht

 “It’s an incredibly human story which, in my view, would translate extremely well to film.’ Norman Lebrecht - cultural commentator, award-winning novelist, Assistant Editor of the London Evening Standard and presenter of Lebrecht Live on BBC Radio 3.

David McVicar

 “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."

David McVicar, highly acclaimed international opera and theatre director.

School Librarian Journal

“This story is well worth exploring... with many implications and much relevance in terms of today.... A hidden treasure.”


Black Mahler: The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story is a well researched dramatisation of the life of an important composer and mixed-race icon. Charles Elford paints a very real picture of a very modest man, who tried to please everyone except himself.  Against a backdrop of Edwardian England we follow Samuel from his childhood in Croydon to manhood as a celebrated but underpaid composer, oblivious to the racism and bigotry that keeps him so poor he must work himself to death. Elford has succeeded in bringing Samuel to life to such an extent that readers can't fail to be moved by the emotional traumas that weave their way through his story. It will make you want to go out and buy everything this mixed-race young man ever composed, just to immerse yourself in his essence, to feel what he felt as he penned Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast and to hear what thousands heard and were moved by, a century ago.”

Black History Month

“...Read it and then listen to Coleridge-Taylor’s music.” Black History 365

Click here to see what the UK’s official Black History Month website said about ‘Black Mahler: The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story’

Michigan Citizen

Click here to see what the Michigan Citizen said about ‘Black Mahler: The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story’


Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s grandson

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.” Mr N Dashwood, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s grandson, 03/10/08

The British Black Mahler

The subtitle of this book by Charles Elford is ‘The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story’, and I must be forgiven for thinking it was about the author of ‘The Ancient Mariner’. But the hero in fact was a household name in his day but is now mostly forgotten. An English composer (1875-1912), born to a white mother and black father, raised in Croydon, and who became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic for his massive choral trilogy ‘The Song of Hiawatha’, from which ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’ still features sporadically in the repertoire. It reads like a novel – it is a dramatisation of its subject’s life - and offers a vivid impression of the cultural milieu in which Coleridge, as his friends called him, found himself. He was ‘discovered’ as a small boy playing marbles in the street with a tiny violin at his side at a time when there were only a handful of black people living in London. Having been tutored at the Royal College of music by Charles Villiers Stanford, he was recognised early on by Sir Edward Elgar as a serious rival. Following the extraordinary success of ‘Hiawatha’, he travelled to the U.S. where he was welcomed by huge crowds, feted as an icon by black musicians and singers, and greeted admiringly by the President himself, the first time a black person had received this accolade. Unfortunately, the composer sold the rights to ‘Hiawatha’ for a pittance before it became a sensational success, but even despite further high-profile disasters he remained unaffected by bitterness right up to his premature death in 1912. The story is framed by an account of the 1932 concert of ‘Hiawatha’ at the Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Malcolm Sargent with the involvement of two and a half thousand participants. It is for the vivid descriptions of such London locations as the Royal Albert Hall, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and the Crystal Palace, that the book will be particularly evocative for London Blue Badge Guides. The book is in fact available at the RAH as well as from the usual sources: Amazon, Blackwell, Waterstones. Having approached this book with mild curiosity I came to find that it reveals a life that is truly inspirational. More information can be found on the website: www.blackmahler.com Colin Street for ‘Guidelines’ (Association of Professional Tourist Guides, www.touristguides.org.uk) September 2008.


“I have lived in Croydon for most of my 75 years and the thing that astounded me is the amount of accurate period detail. Things like: Watha running a stick along the cast iron railings, candles to see to go upstairs at night, horse-trams, steam engines, horse manure in the road etc. Brilliant! Charles Elford has a gift for imagining the events and the idea of the later Sir Malcolm Sargent performance as a link was also a brilliant idea. I think this book has done a great service not only to Coleridge-Taylor but also to Croydon – and I recommend it to as many people as I can.” K Harman.

"A fascinating insight into a forgotten genius." Joanna Bolton, Oxfordshire, UK.

A great read! Go buy it!

“Having not known about Coleridge-Taylor before reading this book, I certainly do now. What an amazing life he had in so few years before his death. This book is well written and I would recommend it to all. It really makes you think about how composers struggle to make ends meet, and yet triumph in a world so focused on making money.” Chris, Scotland.

A true story brought to life in a fictional format

“This is truly wonderful - it's such a witty and moving novel, full of colour and light and interesting characters and events, that a reader could forget that this is actually all based on historical fact. Amazing also that the book's subject - Samuel Coleridge Taylor - is not rather more famous than he currently appears to be. Charles Elford has given us a vignette of the past that resonates with the present through the power of its compassion and its wonderfully conceived characters and relationships. A must-read!” Dr B Twisselmann, London.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor story brought to life

“This book is a fantastic read! It is really interesting to find out about Samuel Coleridge Taylor who previously to reading this book, I knew very little about. He was such a talented musician and yet is relatively unknown in the UK. It is a very sad story in places yet a real page turner as you want to know what is going to happen next to him. It is easy to read and even if you aren't interested in his music, it is fascinating to read his life story with it's many ups and downs. My favourite part was when Samuel goes to the USA for the first time and finally comes to realise just how much he means to black Americans there. There are a few unexpected twists and turns in the book and I would thoroughly recommend this as a really good read.” R. V. Sellwood, Faversham, UK.

Thank you

“I was thrilled to find the website for your book Black Mahler just in time. I’d been planning a set of music lessons for all the classes in the primary school where I teach. We were having a special week of activities for Black History Month and my music lessons were to be based on the life of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The quote at the bottom of the home page by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was what I used to start off every lesson, so that the children I was teaching knew that they would be some of those who would know about the amazing life of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. My husband, seeing how much I'd got into learning about his life, in preparation for the lessons, bought your book for me as a surprise. I couldn't put it down! It was a sheer joy to read more of the people I already knew a bit about from the small bit of research I’d done and the bits I knew nothing about. It just served to heighten my admiration for this wonderful man whose life and music should be remembered far far longer than it has been. Thank you so much for writing this brilliant book.” Becca (London).

A very human story and a good read

“Who would have thought of anything exciting coming out of Croydon at the turn of the 20th century? It's a great story of a genius shining amongst his contemporaries despite being given a bad hand to play. His music was eagerly anticipated and applauded across the World, yet nowadays his name is almost unknown in his native land. Let's hope Charles Elford's celebratory book helps rekindle interest in this man and his work. Meanwhile buy it for a good read!” Julian, London.

John McLaughlin Williams

“Charles Elford's Black Mahler is a sensitive and knowing account of the eventful life of the Afro-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. At once fragrant, heartfelt and airy (much like the composer's music), the book seamlessly incorporates the significant events of the composer's life into a fine and smooth prose style usually associated with writers of fiction. The author shows an admirable attention to detail, while illuminating less well-known facets such as Taylor's close friendship with the talented but short-lived composer William Hurlstone, and the strained relationship between Taylor's wife Jessie and his daughter. 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 and any who would want to know him. For those coming to him for the first time, it is the best introduction to the composer to date and a particularly fine way for students to make acquaintance with one of Britain's brightest musical lights. The example of Coleridge-Taylor's life and accomplishments deserve far wider dissemination. Here's hoping his story will make the leap to the big screen in the near future”.  John McLaughlin Williams - conductor, violinist, Grammy Award winner.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s grandson 3rd October 2008

‘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.”

Coleridge's life deserved a passionate and readable account
“Charles Elford's book is a timely and welcome tribute to the English Composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Coleridge is a little-known name today, but in the late-Victorian and Edwardian period he was immensely popular and highly regarded in this country and America. At the Royal College of Music he was a pupil of Stanford and a contemporary of William Hurlstone and Vaughan Williams, among others.  ...Charles Elford has set out to bring Coleridge to life by dramatising the facts that he has unearthed. ...The result is very definitely not a dry academic tome, but - quite literally - a real page turner. My wife and I both read it quickly and with a real sense of anticipation; we wanted to know what happened next. Coleridge's life deserved a passionate and readable account by someone who understood him and sympathised with him. Charles Elford's excellent book meets this need admirably.” Philip and Susan Taylor (posted on www.amazon.co.uk)