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Everett Lee, First African American Broadway Conductor, Dies at 105

Lee was also among the first Black conductors to lead a major opera company, conducting the New York City Opera's production of Verdi's "La Traviata" in 1955.

BroadwayWorld is saddened to report that conductor Everett Lee has died at age 105. Lee became the first African-American conductor to lead a production on Broadway in 1945's On The Town. He was also among the first Black conductors to lead a major opera company, conducting the New York City Opera's production of Verdi's "La Traviata" in 1955.

Lee studied violin at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he received a Ranney Scholarship. In 1943, Lee was asked to join the orchestra of the Broadway musical Carmen Jones, and he played violin in the pit and performed the oboe onstage in one scene.

In 1946, Lee won a Koussevitzky Music Foundation Award to conduct at Tanglewood, and played first violin in the New York City Symphony. In 1947, he founded an interracial orchestra, the Cosmopolitan Symphony Society, made up of "Americans of Chinese, Russian, Jewish, Negro, Italian and Slavic origin." He served as director of Columbia University's opera department in the early 1950s and traveled to Europe on a Fulbright scholarship.

In 1953, Lee served as a guest conductor of the Louisville Orchestra, becoming the first African American to conduct a white symphony orchestra in the American South.

Facing racism in America, Lee moved to Germany with his family in 1957. In 1962, he was appointed chief conductor of the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in Sweden, a position he held for a decade. In 1976, he conducted the New York Philharmonic for the first time; the concert was in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and included a work by African-American composer David Baker. In 1979, he became music director of the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra in Colombia.

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