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
Died February 6, 1989(1989-02-06) (aged 84)
Alma mater Fisk University, Juilliard School
Occupation Composer and Educator
Employer Virginia State University
Spouse(s) James Arthur Moore
Children Mary 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 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.[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. Retrieved 1 February 2016 – via HighBeam Research. (Subscription required (help)). 
  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. (Subscription required (help)). 
  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. 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. (Subscription required (help)). 
  22. ^ Becker (May 2007). "Soulscapes". American Record Guide. 70 (2): 201. Retrieved 1 February 2016 – via EBSCO. (Subscription required (help)). 
  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. 

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