Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and The Americans

  • 6th June - 5th July 2024
  • Stephen Lawrence Gallery

An exhibition of photographs by Laura E. Migliorino.

In August 2019, Laura E. Migliorino was a fellow with the James Weldon Johnson Foundation in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, working on Chapter 2 of her photo series, The Hidden Life of Books. During this residency, she created lush, provocative photographs of the private book and sheet music collection of Foundation founder Jill Rosenberg Jones. The collection included works by James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Countee Cullen, as well as antique sheet music by The Johnson Brothers. The intimacy of handling these old books, with their unique scents, textures, and sounds, was a profound experience for Migliorino.

Through this project, Migliorino delved into James Weldon Johnson’s life and influence on American culture, discovering his significant but under-recognised contributions, including his role in the Harlem Renaissance and his co-authorship of the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with his brother, Rosamond Johnson. Her curiosity about Rosamond led her to explore his life in London, where he found new perspectives on music and identity, free from the constraints of American racial prejudice. Rosamond’s appointment as musical director at the London Opera House by Oscar Hammerstein in 1911 marked a significant achievement.

A key relationship was between Rosamond and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose friendship and collaboration profoundly inspired both men. Coleridge-Taylor’s story is a remarkable tale of overcoming racial barriers in England and America. His collaborations with American poets like Paul Laurence Dunbar enriched his understanding of his African heritage. Coleridge-Taylor’s defiance of racial segregation in the US, epitomized by his refusal to move to a third-class train car, was legendary and inspirational to his American peers.

The Hidden Life of Books explores various book collections, with chapters dedicated to different archives, including the James Weldon Johnson Archives. Migliorino’s work captures the physical essence of books, seeing them as living memoirs that embody memory and meaning beyond their stories. Growing up with books, she cherishes them as living figures with their own histories and significance.