LOCAL HISTORIC PROFILE: Harry Burleigh, singer, composer

Aug2 burleigh

By Sabina Mollot

Henry “Harry” Thacker Burleigh was a baritone singer, composer and arranger who worked for over half a century at St. George’s Parish in Stuyvesant Square as a soloist. He also sang for 25 years at another Manhattan religious institution, Temple Emanu-El, and at both institutions, he was the first black singer to be hired.

Burleigh (December 2, 1866-September 12, 1949, pronounced “burly”) received his earliest musical training from his mother, according to a Library of Congress profile, while a Wikipedia bio also notes he learned about spirituals and slave songs from his grandfather, Hamilton Waters, who’d bought his way out of slavery in 1835. Burleigh’s father, Henry Thacker Burleigh, Sr., a naval veteran in the Civil War, was the first black juror in Erie County in 1871.

As for the younger Burleigh, called Harry, even without formal training, he was able to find employment as a soloist in several churches and synagogues in his native Erie, Pennsylvania. When he came to New York, he sang with Free African Church of St. Philip’s on West 25th Street, the first black congregation of Protestant Episcopalians in the city, according to the Dvořák American Heritage Association. Burleigh then became situated in part of a large black community there that established itself around St. Philip’s.

At the age of 26, Burleigh was accepted, with a scholarship, to the National Conservatory of Music in New York City at the age of 26. The conservatory was then run out of two homes where the Washington Irving High School campus currently exists today.

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Week In Review, Aug. 13

Rev. Jacob Smith

Rev. Jacob Smith

Several members of the Cavalry-St. George’s parish, including Reverend Jacob Smith and Josh Encinias, were at the All Angels Episcopal Church in Twilight Park, Greene County over the weekend when a fire broke out. Everyone was able to escape the building and although several people were hospitalized, all are expected to make a full recovery. The building was destroyed in the fire, which is believed to be electrical in origin. Reverend Smith will be at Calvary-St. George’s next Sunday and available then to provide an update.

Stuyvesant Town resident and swimmer Simona Dwass completed a big race on the first Saturday in August. The recent high school graduate was attempting the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, taking a counterclockwise turn about the island, and she made it in eight hours and 20 minutes. She was initially worried that the water temperature might be an impediment to her finishing but managed to overcome the obstacle. “I was cold, but just kept going,” she said. “Overall it was a great adventure.”

Breastfeeding mothers and families, elected officials and advocates from throughout the city participated in the “NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council’s Annual Breastfeeding Subway Caravan” on the steps of City Hall on Friday.
After the rally, the caravan traveled on the A train to Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Restoration Plaza for the Brooklyn Alliance for Breastfeeding Empowerment’s (B.A.B.E.) day-long breastfeeding celebration. The Breastfeeding Leadership Council seeks to draw attention to the fact that too many women are still being questioned or harassed for breastfeeding in public.
At the rally, Maloney was presented with the NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council’s Breastfeeding Champion Award for her leadership in promoting breastfeeding as an option for working mothers. For many years, Maloney has introduced legislation to promote and protect a mother’s right to breastfeed. She partnered with Senator Jeff Merkley to include a provision in the Affordable Care Act stating that employers must provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, until the child’s first birthday.

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