Harry T. Burleigh

Harry T. Burleigh
Laura Wheeler Waring
Oil on canvas, not dated
National Portrait Gallery,
Pre-eminent baritone soloist, composer, educator. An inspiration of great influence to the American Youth in the art of musical culture. Harry T. Burleigh, through his many achievements, has obtained a high standing among musicians and is sincerely admired by all.
-J. Rosamond Johnson

As a lad he would not take no for an answer. Grandson of a blind slave, lamplighter in the city of Erie, determined to sing, he borrowed money, came to New York, and won.

A man of grace, gentleness, courtesy, humor and loyalty. A musician who, as composer, singer and interpreter has given to multitudes a lift along life's steep ascent. A representative of a race which, having suffered much at the hands of its brothers, has chosen to express its suffering not in retaliation, but in song. A man of faith who took his religion seriously and counted it a high privilege to pray much, to serve humbly and to sing for half a century to the glory of God in St. George's, New York.
-Elmore M. McKee

Harry Thacker Burleigh's ascent to the position of baritone soloist at St. George's Episcopal Church in New York City was not entirely smooth. Dr. William S. Rainsford, then rector of the church, recalled that when he "broke the news" to the St. George's choir, division, consternation, confusion, and protest reigned for a time. . . . Nothing like it had even been known in the church's musical history.

Burleigh received accolades for his musicianship in the St. George's choir. He also spearheaded the preservation of Negro spirituals at a time when many blacks wanted to forget them and the conditions from which they arose. Burleigh believed that music was "a powerful instrument for international understanding."

Although Waring was a longtime friend of Burleigh, he apparently did not sit for this portrait. Waring used a photograph as the basis for the painting.