Robert Starling Pritchard, PianistHistoric 1962 LP is the First Ever Commercially Issued Recording Featuring the Performance by an African-American Virtuoso Concert Pianist and Recording Artist.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the not-for-profit record label and audio archive of the U.S. national museum, is making available to music listeners the world over, what we believe is the first ever commercially-issued recording featuring the performance by an African-American virtuoso concert pianist and recording artist. Listed since 9 February in the Smithsonian Folkways’ online catalogue (SFS60002), pianist Robert Pritchard’s recording is available either in digital download format.or as an on demand compact disc Order online from or telephone toll-free 888-FOLKWAYS (888 365 5929) or /(202 633 6450). The recording will soon be available from all major online stores and by library subscription to Smithsonian Global Sound®for Libraries or Music Online
In addition to such works from the traditional western classical repertoire as the Bach “Toccata and Fugue in c minor” and Mendelssohn’s “Variations Serieuses,” the recording also features Robert Pritchard’s own compositions, including the “Passacaglia Monroviana” (which he composed during his Artist-in-Residency in Liberia in the 1950s) and the “Ti Jacques Suite Sur Melodie d’Haiti.”
Of Robert Pritchard’s New York Town Hall debut on April 9th, 1961, The New York Times wrote, “He knew how to communicate a sense of musical presence… a feeling for shape, line, phrasing and style. There was always a basic musicality, the authentic and assured ring of real artistry.” The New York Herald Tribute reference to Pritchard’s debut performance of Chopin’s Ballade in F minor as one filled with “passion and intensity,” equally describes his performance on this disc.
As a pioneer in the field of cultural exchange in the 1950s and 1960s, Robert Pritchard performed throughout Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America as well as in Africa during the emergence of the newly (Click here)
independent African nations, where he was lauded for his finely refined interpretive gifts. Rene Balbaud of UPI-Paris wrote of his concert in Senegal: “Robert Pritchard is the first man of the black race whom I have ever seen adapt himself to the Slavic poetry of Chopin, become German when playing Bach, French in Faure and turn back again into a man of his own race in his own music. Hands burn with a desire to applaud him, so great is the charm, so varied the total perfection of his performance.”
He was the author of the proposal for the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Negres (First World Festival of Negro Arts) that took place in 1966 in Senegal (under the auspices of UNESCO and the government of Senegal), undoubtedly the greatest artistic manifestation of people of African descent the world had ever seen. As a precursor to this event, in 1965, Dr. Pritchard organized the American Festival of Negro Arts, which was the first month-long February celebration of Black History Month.
As a human rights advocate, Robert Pritchard bears the distinction of facing the Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain Georgia, as well as being a leading participant in the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement. He is the Founder of the Panamerican-Panafrican Association, Inc., whose mission is to promote cultural, educational and economic exchange between peoples throughout the world representing various cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Pritchard continued to perform around the world. In 1972, he founded the Pritchard Concert Ensemble and toured throughout Africa performing in Zambia for President Kenneth Kaunda. In 1976, Pritchard served as the musical director and pianist for the United Nations Symphonic and Choral Concert Gala in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly. This gala, which commemorated both the 13th Anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity and the American Bicentennial, featured the Festival of the New World Symphony, the Spelman and Morehouse College Choirs, and the Pritchard Concert Ensemble. The Gala also showcased symphonic and choral works by New World composers of African descent. In 1987, Pritchard toured in Korea, China and the Philippines.
In 1989, Pritchard accepted the position of artist-in-residence at Lincoln University, one of the nation’s oldest institutions of higher learning for African and African-American students. He organized a Lincoln University Concert Gala featuring works by African-American composer Undine Smith Moore.
In the biographical notes accompanying Robert Pritchard’s Vox Recording of a Centennial Concert commemorating the Gottschalk Centenary Observance, Musicologist Dr. John Godfrey Doyle wrote of Pritchard: “… the distinguished pianist and composer’s activities as an artist cannot be fully circumscribed within the traditional confines of a performing artist’s career. As a humanist, his dedication to music is but one manifestation of his interest in the greater world of men and art.”


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