Undine Smith Moore

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Undine Smith Moore
Professor Undine Smith Moore.jpg
Prof. Smith Moore
Born(1904-08-25)August 25, 1904
DiedFebruary 6, 1989(1989-02-06) (aged 84)
EducationFisk University, Juilliard School
OccupationComposer and Educator
EmployerVirginia State University
Spouse(s)James Arthur Moore
ChildrenMary Hardie

Undine Eliza Anna Smith Moore (25 August 1904 – 6 February 1989) was a notable and prolific African-American composer of the 20th century. She was also a professor emeritus at Virginia State University.[1] Moore wrote more than 100 compositions, although only about 26 of these were published in her lifetime.[2] Much of her work was composed for choir or voice and many of these were inspired by black spirituals and folk music.[3] Moore once said that she was "a teacher who composes, rather than a composer who teaches."[4]


Moore was born in Jarratt, Virginia.[5] She was the granddaughter of slaves.[3] In 1908, her family moved to Petersburg, Virginia.[6] She began studying piano at age seven with Lillian Allen Darden.[5] Moore attended Fisk University, where she studied piano with Alice M. Grass.[7] In 1924, at the age of 20 became the first graduate of Fisk University to receive a scholarship to Juilliard.[8] Graduating cum laude in 1926, she became supervisor of music for the Goldsboro, North Carolina public school system.[5] She commuted to New York's Columbia University between 1929 and 1931 and received her Master of Arts in Teaching.[3]

In 1938 she married Dr. James Arthur Moore.[5] James Arthur was the chair of the physical education department at Virginia State College.[9] On 4 January 1941 they had a daughter, Mary Hardie.[5]

Undine Smith Moore died in Petersburg, Virginia on February 6, 1989.[5] A composition by Adolphus Hailstork, "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes," was created in 1989 to honor her memory.[10] A historical marker was approved in 2010 for installation in Petersburg.[11] Moore was named one of the Virginia Women in History for 2017.[12]


She began teaching piano, organ and music theory at Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) in 1927, remaining a member of the faculty until she retired in 1972.[13] While at Virginia State University, she taught Camilla Williams and jazz pianist, Billy Taylor.[14] Moore, along with Altona Trent Johns co-founded the Black Music Center at Virginia State University in 1969.[15] Moore traveled widely as a professor and lectured on black composers and also conducted workshops.[16] She was a meticulous teacher who left behind a large archive of her teaching materials, lesson plans, exercises and more.[4]

Moore was a visiting professor at Carleton College and the College of Saint Benedict, and an adjunct professor at Virginia Union University during the 1970s.[17] Among her many awards were the National Association of Negro Musicians Distinguished Achievement Award in 1975, the Virginia Governor’s Award in the Arts in 1985, and a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1984.[18]

She was awarded honorary Doctor of Music degrees by Virginia State University (1972) and Indiana University (1976) and in 1977 was named music laureate of Virginia.[5]

Known to some as the "Dean of Black Women Composers," Moore's career in composition began while she was at Fisk.[5] While her range of compositions include works for piano and for other instrumental groups, Moore is more widely known for her choral works. Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, a 16-part oratorio on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for chorus, orchestra, solo voices and narrator was premiered at Carnegie Hall.[19]

Other familiar compositions are "Afro-American Suite for flute, violoncello, and piano", "Lord, We Give Thanks to Thee" for chorus, "Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord" for chorus, and "Love, Let the Wind Cry How I Adore Thee."

Selected works[edit]

  • Sir Olaf and the Erl King's Daughter (1925)
  • Valse Caprice (1930)
  • "Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord" (1952)
  • "Before I'd Be a Slave" (1953)
  • Introduction, March, and Allegro (1958)
  • Afro-American Suite (1969)
  • Scenes from the Life of a Martyr (1981)
  • Soweto (1987)


  • "Daniel, Daniel, Servant of the Lord," on Steal Away: The African American Concert Spiritual (2016).[20]
  • Suite for Flute, Cello, and Piano on Songs for the Soul: Chamber Music by African American Composers (2010).[21]
  • "Before I'd be a Slave" on Soulscapes (2007).[22]
  • "Mother to Son" (1955), "We Shall Walk Through the Valley" (1977), "Tambourines to Glory" (1973), on Vocalessence Witness - Dance Like the Wind (2004).[23]
  • "To Be Baptised" (1973), "Set Down!" (1951), "I Want To Die While You Love Me" (1975), "Come Down Angels" (1978), on Ah! Love, But a Day - Songs and Spirituals of American Women (2000).[24]
  • "Come Down Angels and Trouble the Water" (1978), "I am in Doubt" (1981), "Watch and Pray" (1973), "Love Let the Wind Cry How I Adore Thee" (1961), on Watch and Pray (1994).[25]


  1. ^ Kozinn, Allan (13 January 1989). "Art and Conscience Mix In King Observances". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  2. ^ Walsh, Anna (17 March 2015). "Debussy Riot: The life of African-American composer Undine Smith Moore". City Paper. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Bustard, Clark (29 February 1996). "Undine Smith Moore". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b Svarch, Ariel (18 October 2014). "Processing Fun: Undine Smith Moore's Teaching Files". Scholar Blog. Emory Libraries & Information Technology. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Notable Virginia Women - Undine Smith (1904-1989)". Working Out Her Destiny. The Library of Virginia. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  6. ^ "Undine Moore, Composer of Note and Innovative Music Teacher". African American Registry. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  7. ^ Briscoe, James R., ed. (1997). Contemporary Anthology of Music by Women. Indiana University Press. p. 221. ISBN 9780253211026.
  8. ^ Scott, Ron (15 January 2016). "Onaje Gumbs, Cassandra's, Winter Marathon Jazzfest". Amsterdam News. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  9. ^ "Mary Easter, Joseph Brown". The New York Times. 15 July 2007. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  10. ^ Spaeth, Jeanne (29 October 1990). "Boys Choir of Harlem". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 20 November 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
  11. ^ "Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989) Marker, QA-28". Marker History. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  12. ^ Undine Anna Smith Moore. "Virginia Women in History 2017 Undine Anna Smith Moore". Lva.virginia.gov. Retrieved 2017-04-07.
  13. ^ Hudson, Herman (1986). "The Black Composer Speaks: An Interview with Undine Smith Moore". Helicon Nine. 14/15: 172–185. Retrieved 1 February 2016 – via EBSCO.
  14. ^ Wolf, Carol O'Connor (20 May 1985). "Honors for the Arts". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  15. ^ Horne, Aaron (1996). Brass Music of Black Composers: A Bibliography. Greenwood Press. p. 191. ISBN 0313298262.
  16. ^ Kirk-Duggan, Cheryl A. (2006). "African American Hymnody". In Keller, Rosemary Skinner; Ruether, Rosemary Radford; Cantlon, Marie (eds.). Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America. Indiana University Press. p. 995. ISBN 9780253346858.
  17. ^ "Undine Smith Moore Papers". Emory Libraries & Information Technology. Emory University. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  18. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 3". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  19. ^ Walker-Hill, Helen (2007). From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music. University of Illinois Press. pp. 73–74. ISBN 9780252074547.
  20. ^ "Steal Away: The African American Concert Spiritual". ArkivMusic. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  21. ^ Moore, D. (November 2010). "Songs for the Soul". American Record Guide. 73 (6): 276–277. Retrieved 1 February 2016 – via EBSCO.
  22. ^ Becker (May 2007). "Soulscapes". American Record Guide. 70 (2): 201. Retrieved 1 February 2016 – via EBSCO.
  23. ^ "Vocalessence Witness - Dance Like The Wind". ArkivMusic. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  24. ^ "Ah! Love, But A Day - Songs And Spirituals Of American Women". ArkivMusic. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  25. ^ Walker-Hill, Helen (1995). Music by Black Women Composers: A Bibliography of Available Scores. Columbia College. ISBN 9780929911045.

External links[edit]