Written by: Braeden Weyhrich
The only daughter of famed composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Avril Coleridge-Taylor followed in her father’s footsteps by writing and publishing her first composition, “Goodbye Butterfly,” when she was twelve years old. She was talented enough to earn piano and composition scholarships to the Trinity College of Music (now known as the Trinity Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance) at the age of 13. Her teachers included Gordon Jacob and Alec Rowley.
As a young woman, Coleridge-Taylor began making public appearances as a conductor with several major orchestras. Her debut was in 1933 at Royal Albert Hall in London. She continued guest conducting in the hall for years and was able to conduct her father’s “Hiawatha” there. She also conducted such orchestras as the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and founded her own Coleridge-Taylor Symphony Orchestra. One of Coleridge-Taylor’s most notable conducting accomplishments was being invited as the first woman to conduct the band of the H.M.S. Royal Marines.
Coleridge-Taylor came from an ethnic background that included several races. Her father, Samuel, was the son of an Englishwoman and a Sierra Leonean man. Avril generally passed as a white woman and did not embrace her African ancestry. When visiting South Africa during apartheid in 1952, she received many commissions–all of which were withdrawn when the commissioners found out that she had Black heritage. Her son, Nigel Dashwood, commented “….she considered herself an Englishwoman, not coloured. At first [she] did not take on her African ancestry, but her experience in South Africa brought it home to her. It surprised her. In the music world [she] was discriminated against more as a coloured woman than as a woman.” While previously neutral on the topic of apartheid, Coleridge-Taylor took a more active stance after her personal experience.
Coleridge-Taylor wrote several large-scale orchestral works, numerous chamber pieces, and a selection of art songs. In 1957, she was commissioned to write a ceremonial march in celebration of Ghana’s independence. Coleridge-Taylor sometimes published her works under the pseudonym Peter Riley to prove to her critics that her music had its own merit, independent of what was implied based on the last name she shared with her father. In the words of her son, “[Avril] felt keenly that she ought to take her place among the greatest. But the people in the classical music profession disadvantaged her because of what she was”–a mixed-race woman with a famous musical father.
- “Avril Coleridge-Taylor.” British Music Collection. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://britishmusiccollection.org.uk/composer/avril-coleridge-taylor.
- “Avril Coleridge-Taylor.” Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://sites.google.com/site/samuelcoleridgetaylornetwork/w-e-b-du-bois-and-coleridge-taylor/avril-coleridge-taylor.
- Coleridge-Taylor, Avril. The Heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. London: Dobson, 1979.
- Fuller, Sophie. “Coleridge-Taylor, Avril [Gwendolen].” Oxford Music Online. 2001. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.2020013.
- Lynch, Frances M. “Avril Coleridge-Taylor.” Minerva Scientifica. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://minervascientifica.co.uk/avril-coleridge-taylor/.