Dett, R. Nathaniel

Dett, R. (Robert) Nathaniel

(1882–1943) composer, pianist, conductor; born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. He was the first African-American student to graduate from Oberlin Conservatory (1908); later he would study music at Columbia University, Harvard, Eastman School of Music, and with Nadia Boulanger in France. He was director of music at Hampton Institute from 1913 to 1931 where he conducted a nationally acclaimed choir, and was an active composer, a concert pianist, and an editor of collections of spirituals. As a composer, his piano works were in the 19th-century romantic style, but in his choral works, such as "Listen to the Lamb" (1914) and The Ordering of Moses (1937), he drew on black spirituals.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.