R. Nathaniel Dett

Biography

Born: October 11, 1882; Drummondville, Quebec, Canada   Died: October 2, 1943; Battle Creek, MI  
A prolific composer who specialized mainly in music for voice and for keyboard, R. Nathaniel Dett made his biggest impact as an educator. Dett was the first African American to receive a bachelor's in music from the Oberlin College Conservatory (in 1908), and he remained attached to one academy or another for most of the rest of his life.



Most of his work, necessarily, was at black American colleges. Her served successively at
Read more Lane College, Tennessee (1908--11), the Lincoln Institute, Missouri (1911--13), the Hampton Institute, Virginia (1913--32), and Bennett College, North Carolina (1937--42).



Dett's own education did not stop at Oberlin. He also did graduate work over the years at Columbia University, Northwestern University, Oberlin College, the University of Pennysylvania, and Harvard. He also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. For all this, he was eventually awarded a master's in music from Eastman in 1932; ironically, by this time he had already received honorary doctorates from Howard University and Oberlin. Dett also picked up many prizes along the way for his compositions; winning Harvard's Bowdoin Literary Prize brought him to the notice of philanthropist George Foster Peobody, who would sponsor much of Dett's work.



As an educator, Dett really made his mark at Hampton. He organized a town-and-gown choir that specialized in African-American sacred music and toured internationally. Dett wrote much original music for this group, and arranged many spirituals; these latter pieces drew some criticism for smoothing out and classical-izing music that should have had a more robust nature. Yet Dett's approach to spirituals was carried on by later generations of arrangers.



Dett also worked outside the academy as a pianist and organist, writing prolifically for those instruments (although most of his organ works went unpublished). The one piano work that kept his name alive in the decades following his death was the suite In the Bottoms, a musical depiction of African-American scenes. His style was conservative, sometimes resembling that of the Impressionistic period of Charles Tomlinson Griffes.



Dett believed that African-American music should be traced to its African roots. Some of his own most widely circulated works, though, found inspiration no farther back than the spiritual. His two biggest choral works were based on spirituals: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was the kernel of the motet Chariot Jubilee, and Go Down, Moses was the basis of the oratorio The Ordering of Moses. Read less
Browse 1-16 of 16 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    The Piano in America / Dubal, Waldoff
    Label: Arkiv   Catalog: 70002 Release Date: 06/24/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Brown,  James Hewitt,  Louis Moreau Gottschalk,  Richard Hoffman  ... 
    Performer:  David Dubal,  Stanley Waldoff
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  • 2.
    Sounds Of North: Two Centuries Of Canadian Piano Music
    Label: Gala (Canadian Indie)   Catalog: 108 Release Date: 05/08/2012   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  F. Glackemeyer,  George Pfeiffer,  W.H. Warren,  James Paton Clarke  ... 
    Performer:  Elaine Keillor
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  • 3.
    Deep River
    Label: Msr   Catalog: 1372 Release Date: 04/10/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  R. Nathaniel Dett,  Howard Swanson,  Hale Smith  ... 
    Performer:  Merwin Siu,  Phoenix Park-kim
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  • 4.
    Complete 78-RPM Solo Recordings / Percy Grainger
    Label: Apr (Appian)   Catalog: 7501 Release Date: 03/08/2011   Number of Discs: 5
    Composer:  Edvard Grieg,  Franz Liszt,  Charles Villiers Stanford,  Percy Aldridge Grainger  ... 
    Performer:  Percy Aldridge Grainger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Columbia Concert Band
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  • 5.
    Label: Jubilate   Catalog: 5637351216 Release Date: 01/06/2009   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Anonymous,  R. Nathaniel Dett,  Naomi Shihab Nye,  Pavel Chesnokov  ... 
    Performer:  Milt McBride,  Ann Paradise,  nancy Fitzgerald,  Jim Dixon  ... 
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  • 6.
    Senku - Piano Music By Composers Of African Decent / Nyaho
    Label: Msr   Catalog: 1091 Release Date: 05/25/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  R. Nathaniel Dett
    Performer:  William Chapman Nyaho
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  • 7.
    Vocalessence Witness - Got The Saint Louis Blues / Brunelle
    Label: Clarion   Catalog: 907 Release Date: 02/10/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  R. Nathaniel Dett,  Edmund Thornton Jenkins,  James P. Johnson,  Carl Rossini Diton  ... 
    Performer:  Ryan French,  Michael Forest,  Paul Shaw,  Steve Burger  ... 
    Conductor:  Philip Brunelle
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  VocalEssence Ensemble
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  • 8.
    Dett: Listen To The Lambs, Etc / Blyden-taylor, Dett Chorale
    Label: Marquis   Catalog: 81293 Release Date: 06/24/2003   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  R. Nathaniel Dett
    Conductor:  Brainerd Blyden-Taylor
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Nathaniel Dett Chorale
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  • 9.
    Steal Away: Spirituals/Gospels
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: CDZ69707 Release Date: 11/29/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Traditional,  R. Nathaniel Dett,  Will James
    Performer:  Julius Drake,  Ruby Philogene
    Conductor:  Ken Burton
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Adventist Chorale
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  • 10.
    Fi-yer! A Century Of African-american Song / Brown, Sears
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 329 Release Date: 03/23/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  R. Nathaniel Dett
    Performer:  William Brown,  Ann Sears
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  • 11.
    American Journey - Harris, Goldmark, Et Al / Erickson
    Label: Dtr/Direct-to-tape   Catalog: 9807 Release Date: 10/01/1998   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roy Harris,  Donald Dumpson,  George Gershwin,  R. Nathaniel Dett  ... 
    Performer:  Clipper Erickson
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  • 12.
    Souvenirs / Roger Rundle
    Label: Leonarda   Catalog: 344 Release Date: 06/23/1998   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Domenico Scarlatti,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  Ludwig van Beethoven,  Robert Schumann  ... 
    Performer:  Roger Rundle
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  • 13.
    Still: Dark Horsemen, Etc;  Dett / Denver Oldham
    Label: Altarus   Catalog: 9013 Release Date: 04/16/1996   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Grant Still,  R. Nathaniel Dett
    Performer:  Denver Oldham
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  • 14.
    Piano Music By African American Composers / Natalie Hinderas
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 629 Release Date: 09/28/1993   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Work, John Wesley, Jr.,  Olly Wilson,  Hale Smith,  Talib Rasul Hakim  ... 
    Performer:  Natalie Hinderas
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  • 15.
    Piano Music By Still And Other Black Composers / Gaylord
    Label: Music & Arts Programs Of America   Catalog: 737 Release Date: 09/28/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Work, John Wesley, Jr.,  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  Edward "Duke" Ellington,  Oscar Peterson  ... 
    Performer:  Monica Gaylord
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  • 16.
    Dett: Piano Works / Denver Oldham
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80367 Release Date: 12/08/1992   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  R. Nathaniel Dett
    Performer:  Denver Oldham
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