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Born on June 15, 1911, in Baltimore, Maryland, Fax was a child prodigy. By age fourteen, Fax was employed as a theater organist playing scores to silent films in Baltimore's Regent Theater on Saturdays, and gospel music at an African American church on Sundays. Fax enrolled at Syracuse University on the advice of his brother, Elton Fax, an artist, who believed Syracuse faculty would take his aspirations as a classical composer seriously.
While earning a bachelor of music degree with honors, Fax won the prestigious Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in a national competition and was elected to the All-University Honor Society. Depression-era conditions compelled him to turn down graduate fellowship offers, and he accepted a position at Paine College in Georgia, where he founded and chaired the music department.
Feeling that he was stagnating artistically, he returned to Central New York in 1942 to study advanced composition at the Eastman School of Music. To support his family, he served as both choirmaster and janitor at a Rochester church until he won a rare second Rosenwald Fellowship. He taught at Black Mountain College in 1946. From 1947 to 1972, Fax taught music theory at Howard University and served as director of the School of Music. Later, Fax became Acting Dean of Howard’s College of Fine Arts. Concurrently, he served as music director at Washington’s famed Asbury Methodist Church. Fax composed works for chorus, symphony, chamber ensemble, voice, piano and organ, in addition to two full-length operas, Christmas Miracle (1958) and 'Til Victory Is Won (1967).
In the Washington limelight, he finally received public attention. Washington Post critic Paul Hume praised Fax’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano as “striking…difficult…a work of surprising contrapuntal texture” and declared the composer’s oeuvre “music of rare power.” ’Til Victory is Won (1967), Fax’s epic operatic history of the African American experience, was mounted at the Kennedy Center. Mark Fax died January 2, 1974, in Washington, DC.
- Mark Fax Scores (& bio), Black Metropolis Research Consortium Survey, Center for Black Music Research (Columbia College Chicago)
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