The late Natalie Hinderas was one of the first Black classical musicians to establish themselves in that world.
Hinderas was born on June 15, 1927 in Oberlin, Ohio. Her father was a jazz pianist and her mother was a classical pianist and instructor. The Henderson family was well-known for their musical accomplishments, with Hinderas’ great-grandfather also teaching and playing music.
She began playing piano at the age of three and had her first recital at the age of eight. Hinderas was the youngest person to graduate from the Oberlin Conservatory’s Special Student’s School, and went on to New York to study at the Julliard School of Music. She completed her formal training at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music in 1953.
One of Hinderas’ chief aims was to expose audiences to classical music, especially Black audiences. In the ’60’s, she became an instructor at Temple University and toured historically Black colleges and universities lecturing about Black classical musicians and performing works from that group. Hinderas also toured around the world with the U.S. State Department as part of an ongoing musical diplomacy program, and made certain to center Black musicians in her presentations.
In 1971, Hinderas became the first Black woman to appear as an instrumental soloist in a regular series of a major U.S. symphony when she appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Hinderas worked as a lecturer and instructor beyond her playing days but still performed up until she died of cancer in 1987 at the age of 60.
In a 1977 interview with Contemporary Keyboard, Hinderas believed that Black music was narrowly confined to just R&B or the Blues. In her view, if a Black person composed the work and lived through their experience, it didn’t matter what the genre was.
“It’s very hard to define Black music. Today, the Black identity is often indistinguishable from anybody else’s in [classical] music,” Hinderas said. “Black music, I suppose, is music written by a black person who has gone through the black experience.”
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