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Burleigh, Henry ("Harry") Thacker (1866 – 1949)

  American singer and composer. He was one of the first African Americans to be accepted as a scholarship holder at America’s National Conservatory of Music, and this during the period Antonin Dvorak was director of the school. The latter became very fond of his talented pupil, he often invited him to his home and asked him to sing Negro songs to him. Burleigh thus represented one of the most important sources of Dvorak’s knowledge of African American music. On 23 January 1894, with Dvorak conducting, Burleigh sang the baritone solo in the premiere of the composer’s arrangement of Stephen C. Foster’s popular song “Old Folks at Home”; in the school orchestra, which Dvorak headed as one of his commitments at the Conservatory, Burleigh played the double bass and timpani. In 1941, Burleigh was one of the organisers of celebrations held in the composer’s former New York flat to mark the 100th anniversary of Dvorak’s birth; a commemorative plaque was also placed on the facade of the house to mark the occasion. The event was attended by a number of famous figures (Bruno Walter, Jan Masaryk) and several of Dvorak’s former pupils. Burleigh paid tribute in his speech to Dvorak’s greatness and sincerity, and thanked him for having rendered Negro folk melodies into material suitable for musical treatment.