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George Walker papers

Identifier: Manuscript Collection No. 1022

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the papers of George Walker from 1915-2008 (bulk 1945-2008) and includes correspondence, musical compositions, personal and professional papers, and printed material. Correspondence documents Walker's career as a pianist, composer, and academic including commissions for compositions, notifications of awards and prizes, letters documenting his fight for tenure at Smith College (Northampton, Massachusetts) from 1964-1966, and letters of congratulations following Walker's receipt of the Pulitzer Prize in music in 1996. There is also personal correspondence from Walker's wife, Helen Siemens; Mary Zionbalist, founder of the Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and patron of Walker's music; and his sons, Ian and Gregory. Musical compositions consist of manuscript and printed scores, sheet music, and audiovisual recordings of George Walker's musical compositions, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning composition, "Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra." Personal and professional papers include certificates and awards, diplomas and honorary degrees, photographs, and writings by Walker. Writings by Walker are primarily lectures delivered in class or invited speaking engagements and range in topic from the history of classical music to Walker's own career and inspirations. Printed material contains biographies of Walker, booklets and brochures, concert programs, magazines, newspaper clippings, and programs for events other than concerts. Printed material primarily documents organizations with which Walker was affiliated, such as the Curtis Institute of Music, Smith College, and Rutgers University at Newark (New Jersey), as well as Walker's awards and performances, including the program for his first performance at Town Hall in New York in 1945.


  • 1915-2008
  • Majority of material found within [ 1945-2008]

Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

Special restrictions apply: Collection stored off-site. Researchers must contact Rose Library in advance for access to this collection.

Use copies have not been made for all of the audiovisual material in this collection. Researchers must contact the Rose Library at least two weeks in advance for access to these items. Collection restrictions, copyright limitations, or technical complications may hinder the Rose Library's ability to provide access to audiovisual material.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Special restrictions apply: Printed or manuscript music in this collection that is still under copyright protection and is not in the Public Domain may not be photocopied or photographed. Researchers must provide written authorization from the copyright holder to request copies of these materials.

Biographical Note

George Theophilus Walker (1922-2018) was born in Washington, D.C., on June 27, 1922 to George T., a physician, and Rosa King Walker. George T. Walker immigrated to the United States from Jamaica and attended Temple University School of Medicine (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

George Theophilus Walker began taking piano lessons at the age of five. He graduated from Dunbar High School (Washington, D.C.) when he was 14 and won a scholarship to attend the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (Oberlin, Ohio). While a student at the Conservatory, he also served as organist for the Graduate School of Theology at Oberlin College. After graduating from Oberlin in 1941, Walker enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), where he studied with Rudolf Serkin, William Primrose, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Rosario Scalero. There he earned degrees in both piano and composition in 1945 and was the first Black graduate of the Curtis Institute. Following graduation, he was the first Black instrumentalist to perform at Town Hall in New York City (New York) and with the Philadelphia Orchestra (Pennsylvania). In 1955, he enrolled in the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York), and he became the first African American person to earn a doctoral degree from that institution in 1956.

Following completion of his doctorate, Walker received both a Fulbright Fellowship and a John Hay Whitney Fellowship and spent two years in Paris (France) studying with composer Nadia Boulanger. Walker held numerous teaching positions following his return to the United States, including at Dillard University (New Orleans, Louisiana) in 1954, Smith College (Northampton, Massachusetts) from 1961-1968, and Rutgers University at Newark (New Jersey) from 1969-1992. He was the first Black tenured faculty member at Smith College. His "Lyric for Strings," originally written in 1946, became one of the most frequently performed works composed by an American. He won numerous awards as a result of his work, including two Guggenheim Fellowships (1969 and 1987), and became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1996 for his composition "Lilacs for Voice and Orchestra."

Walker was married to Helen Siemens from 1960-1970 and the couple had two children: Gregory Walker, a violinist and educator, and Ian Walker, a playwright. George Theophilus Walker died from complications relating to kidney disease in 2018.


71.78 Linear Feet (73 boxes; 1 extra oversized papers folder (OP); and AV Masters (3 boxes, CLP3))


Papers of Pulitzer Prize winning composer George Walker, including correspondence, scores and sheet music, personal papers, professional papers, audiovisual material, and printed material.

Arrangement Note

Organized into four series: (1) Correspondence, (2) Musical compositions, (3) Personal and professional papers, and (4) Printed material.


Purchased from George Walker, 2005. Two small additions were purchased from Walker in 2008.

Appraisal Note

Acquired by Randall Burkett, Curator of African American Collections, as part of the Rose Library's holdings in African American culture and history. One linear foot of duplicate printed material was removed from the collection during processing and shredded. Appraisal decisions were made by Project Archivist NaVosha Copeland and Head of Collection Processing, Sarah Quigley.


Arranged and described at the file level by NaVosha Copeland, Andrew Ertzberger, and Sarah Quigley, 2019.

This finding aid may include language that is offensive or harmful. Please refer to the Rose Library's harmful language statement for more information about why such language may appear and ongoing efforts to remediate racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, euphemistic and other oppressive language. If you are concerned about language used in this finding aid, please contact us at

George Walker papers, 1915-2008 [bulk 1945-2008]
Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
January 6, 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • November 25, 2019: Finding aid revised following processing

Repository Details

Part of the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library Repository

540 Asbury Circle
Atlanta Georgia 30322 United States