Philippa Schuyler was a New York City child prodigy who achieved fame in the 1930s and 40s because of her musical talents but also her mixed-raced parentage. Acknowledged as the “Shirley Temple of American Negroes,” Schuyler found fame as a pianist, but tragedy struck when she realized she was nothing more than a social experiment crafted by her parents.
Schuyler was born August 2, 1931. Her father was Black conservative journalist George S. Schuyler. Her mother, Josephine Cogdell, was a wealthy white Texan who was once a swimsuit and beauty model. Cogdell, and to some degree Schuyler, believed that mixed-raced marriages could produce prodigious offspring and improve the power struggle between the races.
The parents referred to this intermarriage and race-mixing ideal as “hybrid vigor.”
Cogdell fed her daughter raw foods, including uncooked vegetables and raw meat. Although Schuyler’s name was nationally known, her home life was a struggle with her domineering mother. According to the 1997 biography Composition in Black and White: The Life of Philippa Schuyler by author Kathryn Talalay, Schuyler was the victim of her mother’s fanatical obsession with the idea that the white race needed to save itself by mating with Blacks.
Schuyler mother beat her, shielded her from the public and sabotaged relationships with music instructors she felt got too close. Schyler found out via newspaper clippings in a scrapbook noting her achievements that her parents thought of her more as a new breed of humanity rather than a child.
As an adult, Schuyler continued to perform, but when her career was stunted due to race, she found a way to get around it. In her anguish, she forged a brand new identity as a woman of Iberian descent named Felipa Monterro y Schuyler. In her 30’s, Schuyler stopped playing the piano and became a journalist like her father.
Her politics also became radicalized. She joined The John Birch Society, an extremely conservative group and often lectured there. The society was known for its insidious plans to disrupt the momentum of the civil rights movement.
On May 9,1967 while in Vietnam as a war correspondent, Schuyler was embedded on a helicopter mission near Da Nang when the aircraft plunged into the sea. Schuyler survived the crash but drowned because she couldn’t swim. Her mother was so distraught over her daughter’s loss that she committed suicide the following year.
According to several published reports, Halle Berry was producing and Alicia Keys starring in a biopic about Shuyler’s life, but 10 years after the announcement, nothing further has been heard about the project.