Hymn of the Week: February 13, 2022
By Mary Chapman, Director of Music
The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, University City
IN CHRIST THERE IS NO EAST OR WEST
Lift Every Voice & Sing II #62
Words: Galatians 3:28; adapt. John Oxenham, aka William A. Dunkerley (1852-1941)
Music: McKee, Negro Spiritual; adapt. Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949)
Words adapt. Copyright © 1989. Reprinted by permission of American Tract Society.
Music used by permission.
If composer Harry T. Burleigh sounds familiar, that is because he played a significant part in the development of the American art song, and was the first African American composer acclaimed for his concert songs and for his adaptations of African American spirituals. Burleigh was an accomplished singer, editor, and was a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).
Harry Burleigh was born a free man in Erie, Pennsylvania, the grandson of manumitted slaves, and from an early age, he was surrounded by music. His grandfather taught him and his brother traditional spirituals and slave songs, and throughout his childhood, he performed at local church and civic events. Susan Vosburgh Dickson gave his first piano lessons, and he later studied voice with George F. Brierly, an English church musician who had been a chorister at Worcester Cathedral.
In 1892 Burleigh received a scholarship to the National Conservatory of New York where he studied with notable musicians Christian Fritsch, Rubin Goldmark, John White, and Max Spicker. Among those he came to know at the Conservatory were composer Edward McDowell (son of one of his benefactors) and Victor Herbert. But it was his friendship with Czech composer Antonín Dvořák which strongly influenced his career as a composer.
When Dvořák arrived in 1892 as the new director of the Conservatory, he learned of the spirituals through his contact with Burleigh, and stated:
. . . inspiration for truly national music might be derived from the Negro melodies or Indian chants. I was led to take this view partly by the fact that the so-called plantation songs are indeed the most striking and appealing melodies that have yet been found on this side of the water, but largely by the observation that this seems to be recognized, though often unconsciously, by most Americans. . . . The most potent as well as most beautiful among them, according to my estimation, are certain of the so-called plantation melodies and slave songs, all of which are distinguished by unusual and subtle harmonies, the like of which I have found in no other songs but those of old Scotland and Ireland. 
The elder composer encouraged Burleigh to preserve the melodies and songs he had learned from his grandfather in his own compositions. In turn, Dvořák added snippets of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as a theme in the first movement of his Symphony No. 9 From the New World.
In 1894 Burleigh auditioned for the baritone soloist position at St. George's Episcopal Church of New York. Although there was much debate about hiring a Negro to sing in the affluent parish, he was chosen for the post over numerous other applicants. The beginning of this 52-year relationship marked the first time that Burleigh's income allowed him to concentrate on his studies. He made several influential contacts, including entrepreneur J. Pierpont Morgan, who arranged additional engagements for Burleigh.
The next six years were remarkably busy for Burleigh, both professionally and personally. In addition to his work as a singer, he completed his studies at the conservatory in 1896 and taught sight-singing there from 1895 until 1898. He married poet Louise Alston in 1898; their son, Alston, was born the following year. This was also the year that three of Burleigh's early songs, on texts by his wife, were first published by G. Schirmer. In 1900, he became an editor for G. Ricordi, and he was selected as the first African American to serve as soloist for Temple Emanu-El, an affluent New York synagogue.
Burleigh continued and expanded his contacts with the Black musical and academic community, and was a guest lecturer and performer at Black colleges and universities. He became acquainted with celebrated personalities such as composers Will Marion Cook, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and R. Nathaniel Dett, and academicians Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.
Harry T. Burleigh has been an inspiration for his preservation of the music which many may have taken for granted, but is more important than realized.
“In Christ There is No East or West” appears in both the 1982 Hymnal and in the Lift Every Voice and Sing II hymnal, but the latter has an extra verse. You can hear the 1982 hymnal version below:
 Lester A. Walton, "Harry T. Burleigh Honored To-day at St. George's," The Black Perspective in Music 2 (Spring 1984): 81. (Reprinted from the clippings file at the Schomberg Library (New York), March 30, 1924)