Composition in Black and White

Composition in Black and White : Life of Philippa Schuyler - The Tragic Saga of Harlem's Biracial Prodigy

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George Schuyler, a renowned black journalist of the Harlem Renaissance, and Josephine Cogdell, a blond, blue-eyed Texas heiress and granddaughter of slave owners, believed that intermarriage would "invigorate" the races, thereby producing extraordinary offspring. Their daughter, Philippa Duke Schuyler, became the embodiment of this theory, and they hoped she would prove that interracial children represented the final solution to America's race problems. A child prodigy of the 1930s and 40s, who was often compared to Mozart, Schuyler later became an expatriate pianist, who performed for kings and queens, and a right-wing journalist - "Felipa Monterro" from Madagascar - who supported the Vietnam war, and died in a helicopter accident over Da Nang. This authorized biography of Philippa Schuyler draws on previously unpublished letters and diaries to reveal an extraordinary and complex personality. In chronicling Schuyler's restless and haunting life, her battles against racism and sexism, her exploits and love affairs, it also offers a history of the tumultuous times she lived more

Product details

  • Hardback | 334 pages
  • 154.94 x 233.68 x 33.02mm | 771.1g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 24 pp halftones
  • 0195096088
  • 9780195096088

Review quote

"For nearly forty years, Philippa Schuyler has remained fixed in my imagination as the brilliant musical child prodigy I heard so much about in the 1950s. In this thoroughly researched and insightful biography, Kathryn Talalay gives us a picture of Philippa Schuyler as artist, as feminist, as international observer and correspondent, struggling always with racial barriers as well as with issues of her bi-racial identity. As she overcomes these external and internal boundaries, Schuyler seems very much a woman of the 1990s."--Mary Helen Washington"Philippa Duke Schuyler was one of the most talented, glamorous, and intriguing American women of the century. This brilliantly researched and lucidly written biography reads like a novel as it unwraps the secrets of a life simultaneously dark and lustrous."--Richard Newman, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard Universityshow more

Review Text

The story of a child-prodigy pianist and journalist and her troubled family. This book is a three-way portrait of Philippa Schuyler (1931-67); her father, an African-American journalist; and her mother, a domineering southern white. Josephine Cogdell left her family and wealth to pursue a bohemian life in New York City, where she met George Schuyler, a prominent Harlem columnist and editor. Differences in temperament would strain their marriage even before the birth of their daughter. Philippa showed early talent on the keyboard both as performer and composer. Josephine managed her young prodigy and was highly critical of her performances (the young pianist was described by one onlooker as a "prodigy puppet"). Although accepted as a child phenomenon, once Philippa reached maturity, she found the doors of the American classical music world closed to a black concert pianist. She took refuge in a series of tours, often to Third World countries, where she received recognition for her talent. In the early 1960s, Philippa and her mother hatched a bizarre plan in which she took the name "Felipa Monterro" and attempted to relaunch her career. Philippa's natural propensity for writing led her to journalism; she reported on the troubles in the Belgian Congo in the early '60s and on the early days of the Vietnam War, dying in a helicopter crash there in 1967. Her mother, devastated by the loss, committed suicide two years later. Talalay (assistant archivist/editor at the American Academy of Arts and Letters) does a reasonable job of recounting Schuyler's life, although her skimpy musical knowledge leads to occasional howling errors (she asserts that Western classical music is based on "nonequal temperament"). She also lapses into purple prose from time to time: "Blind jealousy, hurt pride, puritanical disgust, and utter amazement chased each other in the vortex of his despair." Aworkmanlike biography that will interest students of African-American studies. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Kathryn M. Talalay

About the Author Kathryn Talalay, the recipient of a 1988-1989 Rockefeller Foundation Grant, was on the faculty of Indiana University for fourteen years. The author of numerous articles and a contributor to the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, she is currently archivist and editor at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, where she lives with her husband Frank Ponzio, a jazz pianist and more

Rating details

46 ratings
4 out of 5 stars
5 37% (17)
4 35% (16)
3 22% (10)
2 4% (2)
1 2% (1)
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