Philippa Schuyler

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Philippa Schuyler
Philippa Schuyler NYWTS.jpg
Schuyler (1959)
Background information
Born(1931-08-02)August 2, 1931
OriginUnited States
DiedMay 9, 1967(1967-05-09) (aged 35)
Occupation(s)Pianist, composer

Philippa Duke Schuyler (/ˈsklər/; August 2, 1931 – May 9, 1967) was an American child prodigy and pianist who became famous in the 1930s and 1940s as a result of her talent, mixed-race parentage, and the eccentric methods employed by her mother to bring her up.

Schuyler was the daughter of George S. Schuyler, a prominent black essayist and journalist Josephine Cogdell, a white Texan and one-time Mack Sennett bathing beauty, from a former slave-owning family. Her parents believed that intermarriage could "invigorate" both races and produce extraordinary offspring. They also advocated that mixed-race marriage could help to solve many of the United States's social problems.



Cogdell further believed that genius could best be developed by a diet consisting exclusively of raw foods. As a result, Philippa grew up in her New York City apartment eating a diet predominantly comprising raw carrots, peas and yams and raw steak. She was given a daily ration of cod liver oil and lemon slices in place of sweets. "When we travel," Cogdell said, "Philippa and I amaze waiters. You have to argue with most waiters before they will bring you raw meat. I guess it is rather unusual to see a little girl eating a raw steak."

Recognized as a prodigy at an early age, Schuyler was reportedly able to read and write at the age of two and a half, and composed music from the age of five. At nine, she became the subject of "Evening With A Gifted Child", a profile written by Joseph Mitchell, correspondent for The New Yorker, who heard several of her early compositions and noted that she addressed both her parents by their first names.[1]


Schuyler began giving piano recitals and radio broadcasts while still a child and attracted significant press coverage. New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia was one of her admirers and visited her at her home on more than one occasion. By the time she reached adolescence, Schuyler was touring constantly, both in the US and overseas.

Her talent as a pianist was widely acknowledged, although many critics believed that her forte lay in playing vigorous pieces and criticized her style when tackling more nuanced works. Acclaim for her performances led to her becoming a role model for many children in the United States of the 1930s and 1940s, but Schuyler's own childhood was blighted when, during her teenage years, her parents showed her the scrapbooks they had compiled recording her life and career. The books contained numerous newspaper clippings in which both George and Josephine Schuyler commented on their beliefs and ambitions for their daughter. Realisation that she had been conceived and raised, in a sense, as an experiment, robbed the pianist of many of the illusions that had made her earlier youth a happy one.

Later life and journalism[edit]

In later life, Schuyler grew disillusioned with the racial and gender prejudice she encountered, particularly when performing in the United States, and much of her musical career was spent playing overseas. In her thirties she abandoned the piano to follow her father into journalism.

Schuyler's personal life was frequently unhappy. She rejected many of her parents' values, increasingly becoming a vocal feminist, and made many attempts to pass herself off as a woman of Iberian (Spanish) descent named Filipa Monterro. Although she engaged in a number of affairs, and on one occasion endured a dangerous late-term abortion after a relationship with a Ghanaian diplomat, she never married.

Philippa Schuyler and her father, George Schuyler, were members of the John Birch Society.[2]


In 1967 Schuyler traveled to Vietnam as a war correspondent. During a helicopter mission near Da Nang to evacuate a number of Vietnamese orphans, the helicopter crashed into the sea. While she initially survived the crash, her inability to swim caused her to drown. A court of enquiry found that the pilot had deliberately cut his motor and descended in an uncontrolled glide – possibly in an attempt to give his civilian passengers an insight into the dangers of flying in a combat zone – eventually losing control of the aircraft.

Her mother was profoundly affected by her daughter's death and committed suicide a few days before its second anniversary.[3]


Film rights to Schuyler's biography have been sold and it was once reported that she was to become the subject of a movie starring Alicia Keys.[4]

Philippa Schuyler Middle School for the Gifted and Talented in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York is dedicated to preserving the memory of the child prodigy by offering an arts-focused education to New York City children.


  • Philippa Duke Schuyler, Adventures in Black and White, with Foreword by Deems Taylor, (New York: R. Speller, 1960)
  • Philippa Duke Schuyler, Who Killed the Congo?, (New York: Devin-Adair, 1962)
  • Philippa Duke Schuyler, Jungle Saints: Africa's Heroic Catholic Missionaries, (Roma: Verlag Herder, 1963)
  • Philippa Duke Schuyler and Josephine Schuyler, Kingdom of Dreams, (New York: R. Speller, 1966)
  • Philippa Duke Schuyler, Good Men Die, (New York: Twin Circle, 1969)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mitchell, Joseph (31 August 1040). "Evening With a Gifted Child". The New Yorker. Conde Nast. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  2. ^ James M. Manheim, "Philippa Schuyler",
  3. ^ Tate, G.; Randolph, L. (2002). Dimensions of Black Conservatism in the United States: Made in America. Springer. p. 173. ISBN 9780230108158.
  4. ^ "Alicia Keys picked to star in film about piano prodigy," Syracuse Post-Standard, May 17, 2004.


  • Daniel McNeil, "Black devils, white saints & mixed-race femme fatales: Philippa Schuyler and the soundbites of the sixties", in Critical Arts: A Journal of South-North Cultural Studies, 2011.
  • Daniel McNeil, Sex and Race in the Black Atlantic (New York, Routledge, 2009). [1]
  • Joseph Mitchell, "Evening With a Gifted Child", in McSorley's Wonderful Saloon (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1943)
  • Josephine Schuyler, Philippa, the Beautiful American: The Traveled History of a Troubadour, (paperback, n.p., 1969)
  • Kathryn Talalay, Composition In Black and White: The Tragic Saga of Harlem's Biracial Prodigy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)

External links[edit]