Friday, 14 February 2014 11:48

Black History Month Spotlight - Bethesda Episcopal Church To Recognize Harry T. Burleigh, African-American Composer-Arranger And Baritone  

Written by Staff Report
SARATOGA SPRINGS ­-The world famous African-American composer-arranger Harry T. Burleigh will be recognized for his music and his connection to Bethesda Episcopal Church at services on Sunday, February 16, the Very Rev. Marshall J. Vang, Interim Rector, announced. An arrangement by Burleigh of a spiritual will be sung from the hymnal at the 10 a.m. service, as Bethesda explores its own roots during Black History Month. The church is located on Washington Street near Broadway. Burleigh was a musician of great significance in the late 19th and 20th Centuries until his death in 1949. His arrangement of ‘Deep River’ remains a standard today, and he worked with Antonin Dvorak on the themes from spirituals that became part of the New World Symphony, Dvorak’s 9th. In 1917, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recognized him with its Spingarn Medal for highest achievement by an American citizen of African descent. His connection to Bethesda Episcopal and Saratoga Springs began in 1880 when, as a teenager, he was a wine server at the Grand Union Hotel, according to an account from Evelyn Britten, former city historian. Bethesda’s rector at the time, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Carey, took an interest in the young men working at the hotel, set up a Sunday afternoon service for them and taught them the music of the church. Burleigh’s voice was soon recognized, and parishioners and guests from the hotels all over town soon filled Bethesda for the services. “Bethesda has always made music a central part of its worship and outreach to the community,” said Dean Vang. “So the discovery of this history both substantiates this tradition and comes as no surprise.” Local historian Field Horne turned up the information recently and passed it on to Gordon Boyd, a member of the Bethesda congregation who is researching the parish’s musical history. “Burleigh was a true pioneer, recognized for his musical ability right here in Saratoga Springs. Then he moved on to a distinguished career in New York City, breaking racial barriers at a church there thanks to the intervention of none other than J.P. Morgan,” said Boyd. “We are fortunate to have one of his musical arrangements in our hymn book and will be proud to include it in our service music next Sunday.” Burleigh’s compositions and arrangements were numerous, and his discography is extensive. More information about him can be found at:
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