February 8th - Robert Pritchard, Pianist

Robert Pritchard, Pianist - Robert Pritchard, 1962

This album is one of a number of "firsts" that Folkways could lay claim to - in this case, this is the first commercially-released recording of an African-American pianist playing classical music.

It was released in 1962.

Robert Pritchard is an amazingly interesting character, and one - I learned while doing research for this little blurb - who we can actually thank for Black History Month, which he apparently founded! A pianist, composer and activist who pioneered African-American studies programs and performed around the world, Dr. Pritchard passed away on November 7th of 2016.  Growing up in humble surroundings - first in Winston-Salem and then in Syracuse - Pritchard ended his life wreathed in laurels. I had literally never heard of him before starting the project.

Additionally, the album is extremely good.

I grew up playing classical music but unfortunately am no expert on it; I can say that I found Pritchard's performances of Bach, Mendelssohn and Chopin to be subtle and fun. However, I think the main attractions on this album are his performances of Gottschalk's Le Banjo and his own two compositions, Ti Jacques: Suite sur Melodie Folklorique d'Haiti and Hurd: Passacaglia Monroviana, the latter written during his tenure as the artist-in-residence for the Republic of Liberia. These pieces are clearly dear to him - Pritchard was a huge booster of Gottschalk, a popular American mixed-race composer, and his own pieces are catchy and honestly charming.

Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways