Henry Lewis (musician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Marilyn Horne and Henry Lewis in 1961, photo by Carl Van Vechten
External audio
You may listen to Henry Lewis conducting the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra performing the Concerto for Violin in D major Opus 35 by Pyotr Tchaikovsky in 1956 here on 7aso.org

Henry Jay Lewis (October 16, 1932 – January 26, 1996) was an African-American double-bassist and orchestral conductor. At age 16, he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic, becoming the first African-American instrumentalist in a major symphony orchestra and, later, the first African-American symphony orchestra conductor in the United States.[1]

Early life[edit]

Originally from Los Angeles, California, Lewis attended The University of Southern California and at age 16, joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic, becoming the first black instrumentalist in a major symphony orchestra. After six years as a double-bassist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, he played double-bass with and conducted the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra in Germany and the Netherlands while serving in the United States Armed Forces (1955–1956).[2]


In 1961, Lewis gained national recognition when he was appointed assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta, a post he held from 1961-1965. In 1963 he traveled with his orchestra in Europe under the auspices of the State Department. In 1968, after returning to the USA, Lewis founded the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He also became the conductor and musical director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, transforming the group from a small community ensemble into a nationally recognized orchestra. He was the first African-American to lead a major symphony orchestra. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1972 and after retiring from the New Jersey Symphony in 1976, he toured as a guest conductor in all of the major opera houses. From 1989 to 1991, when Kees Bakels succeeded him, he was principal conductor of the Netherlands Radio Symphony.

Personal life[edit]

From 1960 to 1979, Lewis was married to opera singer Marilyn Horne, who often credits him with her early development as a singer.[3] They lived together in Echo Park, California, and had a daughter, Angela.


Lewis died from a heart attack in 1996 at the age of 63. He was survived by his daughter, Angela, and by his ex-wife (and Angela's mother), Marilyn Horne.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gordon, Larry (January 28, 1996). "Henry Lewis; Symphony Conductor Broke Racial Barriers". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  2. ^ Brown, Emily Freeman (2015). A Dictionary for the Modern Conductor p. 197. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-8401-4.
  3. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (January 29, 1996). "Henry Lewis, Conductor Who Broke Racial Barriers of U.S. Orchestras,Is Dead at 63". The New York Times. Retrieved June 10, 2018.