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May 16, 2019

Philippa Schuyler: Composition in Black and White and the Short Life of an American Child Prodigy

Born 1931 in New York, Philippa 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.

Schuyler was raised in a strict environment that stressed the importance of intelligence, education, artistic expression and a diet of raw food. In her early years, newspaper and other articles wrote about her prodigal development as she crawled at four weeks, walked at eight months, read at two years, and played the piano at age three. At age four, Schuyler could spell four-letter words and was playing piano (her own compositions) on radio. She had a measured IQ of 180 at age seven, graduated from elementary school at age ten, had written over 100 compositions by thirteen, and for that birthday, completed “Manhattan Nocturne,” her first orchestra work, scored for 100 instruments.

The New York Philharmonic performed this piece during the last performance of the Young People's Concert season (1944-45). After graduating high school at age fifteen, Schuyler wrote “The Rhapsody of Youth” in honor of the inauguration of Haitian president Paul Magloire. She was knighted for this and gave command performances for the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium.

Schuyler was also a devoted Catholic, fluent in several languages, and a writer of several books. She began a career in journalism as a news correspondent just before her death.

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.

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

These beautiful photos that captured portrait of young Philippa Schuyler in the 1940s when she was a teenager.



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