Black Music Archive

Şowándé, Fęlá,

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Şowándé, Fęlá, 1905-1987

Olufęlá Şowándé was born in Ợyó,
where his father, Emmanuel, of Ègbá origin, was an Anglican minister on the
faculty of St. Andrews College.  Music
study was a requirement here of all students for the priesthood.  Şowándé thus was surrounded by music from his
earliest years.  When his father, his
first music teacher, was transferred to Lagos, Şowándé began his 20-year
association, as requested by his father, with Thomas King Ẹkúndayợ Phillips
(who had been the first Nigerian to study music in London), originally as a
choir boy at Christ Church Cathedral and then as his student.  Like Phillips before him, he was enrolled at
the Church Missionary Society Grammar School and later at Kings College, but he
used every opportunity to attend the organ recitals of Phillips, thus becoming
introduced to European music and particularly the organ works of Bach, Handel,
and Rheinberger, as well as Coleridge-Taylor’s
Hiawatha’s wedding feast.  On his graduation from Kings College, he was
an accomplished pianist and was engaged as deputy organist under Phillips at
the cathedral.  Simultaneously, he taught
in a mission school and worked as a civil servant for three years.

He first met jazz in the company of fellow Nigerians in 1932, listening
to Duke Ellington on short-wave radio.
Added to this were broadcasts from France, the BBC, and from New York
and Chicago, and recordings by Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, and Earl Hines.  This led to his organization of the Triumph
Dance Club Orchestra, in which he played piano.
He also was a member of the jazz band, The Chocolate Dandies, that had
been organized about 1927 in Lagos.

In 1935, he moved to London with the intent of studying civil
engineering, but he arrived already experienced from his days in Lagos as a
jazz musician.  African Americans were
delighted by his ability to imitate the piano styles of jazz figures.  By music, he was able to pay for his
education.  He organized a jazz septet,
consisting largely of musicians from the Caribbean, and he was assumed to be a
Black American.  He abandoned his plans
for civil engineering and dedicated himself to music, attending the University
of London and Trinity College of Music as an external candidate.  His work in Lagos with Philips provided him
with a European musical perspective, and he intensified that by studying with
George D. Cunningham, George Oldroyd, and Edmund Rubbra.  However he was influenced by these contacts,
it was in 1935 that he began coping with nationalistic impulses, which were articulated
in his articles from 1965, “The development of a national tradition of music”
and “Language in African music.”  In
essence he felt music had the obligation to communicate with his fellow
citizens and this could be accomplished by reference to a Nigerian musical
language.  He used the term “Ideation” to
refer to an individual’s ability to respond to an existing musical
thought.  This process of making
traditional music classical has been often observed.  Nonetheless, the composition of a symphony to
commemorate Nigeria’s freedom from colonialism in 1960 provoked substantial
controversy, in large measure because, there not then being an orchestra in
Nigeria that could play the work, he took it to the U.S. for performance.  Alternatives were offered that he have it
performed by a dance orchestra or by a police or army band.

He had not
neglected his interest in jazz or his curiosity about African American
culture.  He took lessons in jazz piano
with Jerry Moore and began performing, not just on piano, but on the Hammond
organ, and he made friends with such visitors as Paul Robeson, Fats Waller, the
Nicholas Brothers, Peg-Leg Bates, Valaida Snow, and Tim Moore (later to play
the role of Kingfish on the Amos and Andy radio broadcasts).  He performed with J. Rosamond Johnson, choral
conductor of Lew Leslie’s Black birds of 1936 (in which Şowándé
performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in blue), and it was Johnson who
introduced him to the music of R. Nathaniel Dett.  He joined Adelaide Hall as her cabaret
pianist and recorded with her in the last years of the 1930s.  In 1940 he began a series of radio
broadcasts, West African music and the possibilities of its development,
which he exemplified with his own works.
Recordings of these broadcasts were aired in Nigeria in the 1960s.

He joined the Royal Air Force
during the war, but was released on the request of the Ministry of Information
so that he could serve as music director for the colonial film unit.  This resulted in his writing music for films
that were directed to African audiences.
Composed at this time was his personal “signature” tune, based on a
sacred melody (Ợbáńgíjì) composed by Rev. Joshua Jesse Ransome-Kuti that
served its needs and those of the BBC’s African programs from 1943 to the

It was in 1943
that he earned the Fellowship diploma of the Royal College of Organists, as
well as the Limas Prize for music theory, the Harding Prize for his organ
playing, and the Read Prize for the overall excellence of his examinations,
along with his B.M. degree from the University of London.  He was appointed organist and choir director
of the West London Mission of the Methodist Church in 1945 (Kingsway Hall),
which stimulated the creation of new works for organ. His Sunday recitals
became very popular.  It was under these
circumstances that J. H. Kwabena Nketia, then a student at the School of
Oriental and African Studies, first heard him.
They encountered each other again in 1966, when Şowándé was exploring
new theories in ethnomusicology at Northwestern University, some of which he
found controversial.

1953 he returned to Nigeria to head the Music Section of the Nigerian
Broadcasting System, a position that provided little time for his work as
composer.  In this post he produced
weekly radio programs based on field research of Yorùbá folklore, mythology,
and oral history, presented by tribal priests.
He was also named honorary organist at the Cathedral Church.

From 1962 until
1965 he was senior research fellow at the University of Ibadan, then becoming
musicology professor at the university’s Institute of African Studies.  A government grant in 1966 resulted in a
series of studies on Nigerian music.
Funding from the United States Department Leaders and Specialists Grant
provided him with the opportunity in 1957 to present organ recitals in New
York, Boston, and Chicago, and to lecture on his research.  The offerings in New York were sponsored by
the Rockefeller Foundation.  He was a
visiting scholar for the 1961 school year at Northwestern University’s
anthropology department.  His writings
during this period were unpublished for the most part, because his metaphysical
orientation ran counter to prevailing philosophies in music.  At Princeton University, he supplemented his
study of composition by working with Roger Sessions.

A grant from the
Ford Foundation (1962-1965) permitted him to conduct additional research at the
University of Ibadan on Yorùbá religion.

He was professor
of ethnomusicology at the University of Ibadan’s Institute of African Studies
from 1965 to 1968, leaving that position to join the faculty of Howard
University, where he remained to 1972.
From 1968 to 1971 he produced a series of recordings on various aspects
of Nigerian history, language, literature, and music that was distributed by
the Broadcasting Foundation of America, 48 of which were deposited with the
foundation’s New York archives.  Other
materials are held within the Dartmouth College Library.

became professor of Black studies at the University of Pittsburgh in 1972,
later joining the faculty of the School of Education.  He was affectionately known here as “Papa

His last position
was in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, which he
held from 1976 until his retirement in 1982, accompanied by Eleanor, his
wife.  His final days were spent in a
nursing home in Ravenna, where he died of a stroke.  A memorial service was held at St. James
Episcopal Church in New York on 3 May 1987, at which time Eugene Hancock
complied with Şowándé ’s 1965 request by performing his Bury me eas’ or wes’.  Şowándé had received a permanent American
visa in 1972 and had become a citizen in 1977.

He had been guest
conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, and in 1964 conducted the New
York Philharmonic in his Folk symphony.

Bánkợle was one of his students.

possibly the first African, he was named a Fellow of the Royal College of
Organists in 1943.  In honor of his 70th
birthday, New York’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Church dedicated its 20th
Annual Festival of Sacred Music
to him.
He was granted an M.B.E. and D.M. degrees in honoris causa.   Queen Elizabeth II named him a Member of the
British Empire in 1956, the same year he became a Member of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria.  The music
department at the University of Nigeria-Nsukka, was renamed the Sowande School
of Music in his honor (1962).  In 1968 he
was given the Traditional Chieftaincy Award, named the Bagbile of
Lagos.  He was given an honorary
doctorate by the University of Ife in 1972.
The Fęlá Şowándé Memorial Lecture and Concert Series was initiated in
1996 by Monsunmợla Omíbíyì at the University of Ibadan’s Institute of African
Studies, with the keynote address delivered by J. H. Kwabena Nketia.


LP: Marian Anderson,
contralto.  LM-110.

LP: William Warfield,
baritone.  Columbia AAL-32..

LP: Camilla Williams,
soprano.  MGM E-156.

A garden for my love, for voice
& piano.

A song of joy, for piano.

A Yorùbá lullaby, for piano.  Première [?]: BBC broadcast.

2 African dances, for
orchestra.  London: ?.*

6 African melodies for Western instruments.

African suite, for string orchestra
& harp (by 1939).[2]  London: Chappell,
1950.*  1. Joyful day [based on a melody of Ephraim Amu]; 2. Nostalgia [based on a melody of
Ephraim Amu]; 3. Lullaby; 4. Onipe; 5.
[3]Songs of
Amu:  published in London by Sheldon
Press in 1933, which is the source of the Amu tunes used here.

LP: Decca
(1951 or 1952?).

Harvey, conductor:  London LS-426.

— for saxophone & orchestra.

CD: Vancouver Orchestra;
Mario Bernardi, conductor.  CBC CMCD

—- 1. Joyful day, allegro giocoso.*

CD: Chicago Sinfonietta;
Paul Freeman, conductor.  Cedille CDR
90000 055 (2000, African heritage
symphonic series, vol. 1
).  Liner
notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

CD: Vancouver Orchestra;
Mario Bernardi, conductor.  CBC Records
SMCD 5135, 1994.

LP: London Symphony
Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.  CBS
Special Products P9-19424 (Black
composers series
).  Liner notes:
Dominique-René de Lerma.

LP: London Symphony
Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.
Columbia M-33433 (1975, Black
series).  Liner notes:
Dominique-René de Lerma.

—- 2. Nostalgia, andante.*

CD: Chicago Sinfonietta;
Paul Freeman, conductor.  Cedille CDR
90000 055 (2000, African heritage
symphonic series, vol. 1
).  Liner
notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

LP:  London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman,
conductor.  CBS Special Products P9-19424
(Black composers series).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

LP:  London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman,
conductor.  Columbia M-33433 (Black composers series, 1975).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

—- 4. Onipe.*

—- 5. Akinla, allegro non troppo.*

CD: Chicago Sinfonietta;
Paul Freeman, conductor.  Cedille CDR
90000 055 (2000, African heritage
symphonic series, vol. 1
).  Liner
notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

LP: London Symphony
Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.  CBS
Special Products P9-19424 (Black
composers series
).   Liner notes:
Dominique-René de Lerma.

LP:  London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman,
conductor.  Columbia M-33433 (1975, Black composers series).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

African vespers, for orchestra.

Africana, for orchestra (1944).[4]  Première: 1944, London; BBC Symphony
Orchestra, Fęlá Şowándé, conductor

BBC Symphony Orchestra; Fęlá Şowándé, conductor.

Alone with thought, for voice,\ & orchestra.

All I do.*

An African folk dance tune, for orchestra.

An evening procession on the coast, for orchestra.


Art songs, for tenor & string quartet.

At evening, for string orchestra.  London: Bosworth’s.*

At the factory.*

Because of you, for voice & piano.   London: Chappell.*

By the waters of Babylon, for SATB.

Children at play, for orchestra.

Chorale prelude on Yorùbá sacred melodies, for
organ.  London, Novello.

Come now, Nigeria.
Ibadan: Nigerian Book Suppliers, 1968.

Come out and dance, for soprano & piano.  Text: E. Fielding Kirk.  Based on a Yorùbá folksong.

for SSA, percussion & piano.  London:
Francis, Day, and Hunter, 1957.

Comfort, for SATB.

Curse of the demon cues.*

Enia yeper, for voice & piano.

Fantasy, organ, D major.  London: Chappell.

Festival march, for organ.
London: Chappell.*

Gloria, for organ.  New York: G. Ricordi, 1958.  Based on Ògo ni fún o Ol

Go down Moses, for organ.  London: Chappell, 1955.*

CD: Nancy Cooper,
organ (Richard L. Bond Op. 27, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Missoula MT).  Pro Organo CD 7139 (c2000).

Goin’ to set down.  New York: Franco Columbo.*  Duration: 3:49.

Charmain S. Hill, soprano; Virginia Union University Concert Choir; Odell
Hobbs, conductor.  Eastern ERS-571.

Heav’n bells are ringin’, for SATB [?].

[?]: Century 39764.

High life.*

Irínwó owó o, for SSA.

Ise olúwa, for orchestra.

Joshua fit de battle ob Jericho, for organ.  London: Chappell, 1955.

CD: Lucius Weathersby, organ (Great
Torrington Parish Church, Father Willis organ; 2003/IX/27).  International Society – African to American
Music (2003).

Josiah, for SATB.

Jubilate, for organ.

K’a mó rókósó, for organ.   New York: Ricordi, 1966.  Dedication: Eugene Hancock.

Koronga, for orchestra.  London: Bosworth’s.*

Kyrie; Oyrie, for organ.
London: Chappell, 1955.*

Laudamus te, for organ.

Leisure hour fragment, for voice &

Let thy merciful ear, O Lord, for SATB.

Maypole dance.*

Mopa, for orchestra.

Mountain scene.*

My heart and I, for voice & piano.

My way’s cloudy, for SATB & piano.

Nigerian folk symphony (1959). [5]*  Commission: Nigerian
government to commemorate Nigerian independence.  Première: 1964.  Première: 1960; Bournemouth Symphony
Orchestra; Charles Groves, conductor.[6]

AT: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra;
Charles Groves, conductor (1960).

Nigerian themes, for organ.

knows the trouble I’ve seen,
SSAATTBB, by Harry Burleigh, arr. by Fęlá Şowándé.   New York: Franco Colombo (#1896).*

Òbáńgíjì, for piano.
=.  For organ?  London: Chappell, 1955.*

Oh render thanks, for SATB & organ.

Oh motherland , for orchestra (1960).  Commission: Nigerian government to
commemorate Nigerian independence.

for SATB, brass ensemble, percussion & organ.  Commissioned by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of
Information.  The national anthem of

Oro soro, for soprano & SATB.

Out of Zion, for SATB & organ.

Oyígìyiìi; Introduction, theme and variations on a Yorùbá folk theme, for organ.  New York: G.
Ricordi, 1958.  19p.


Pastourelle, for organ.  London: Chappell, 1952.*

CD: Lucius Weathersby, organ (Great
Torrington Parish Church, Father Willis organ; 2003/IX/27).  International Society – African to American
Music (2003).


Plainsong, for organ.
London: Chappell.*



Prayer; Oba a ba ke, for organ.  New York: Ricordi, 1958.*

2 Preludes on Yorùbá sacred melodies, for organLondon:
Chappell, 1945.

—– 1. K’a múra.

—– 2. Jésù olugbàlà.

Reflection, for string orchestra.

Return of spring, for orchestra.*

Romantic lady.*

Sacred idioms of the Negro, for organ.  1. Bury me eas’ or wes’; 2.
Laudamus te; 3. Vesper; 4. Supplication; 5. Via dolorosa;  Jubilate.

4 Sketches, for orchestra.  1. In an African village; 2. The
new environment; 3. Echoes of the past; 4. The ceremonial.

Snow-capped Kilimanjaro, for orchestra.

3 Songs of contemplation, for tenor &
string orchestra.  1. To a princess; 2. Loneliness; 3. Night in the desert.

St. Jude’s response, for SATB & organ.

still, Jordan
, for SATBB, by
Harry Burleigh, arr. by Fęlá Şowándé.  New York: Franco Colombo (#FCC 1893).



low, sweet chariot
, for piano.

The emblem.*

The gramercy of sleep, for TTBB.  New York: G. Ricordi.

The Lord is risen, for SATB with optional percussion.

The Negro in sacred idiom, for organ. [7]   London: Chappell, 1955.  1.
Joshua fit de battle of Jericho; 2. Kyrie; 3. Yorùbá lament; 4. Obángíji.

LP: Fęlá
organ.  London LL-533 (1952).

—– 1. Joshua fit de battle of Jericho.*

CD: Hans Uwe Hielscher, organ (1863-1982 Walker/Saur/Oberlinger
4-116, Wiesbaden, Merktkirche). EL CD-016 (Spiritual
and gospel songs

—– 3. Yorùbá lament.*  Duration: 7:53.

Lucius Weathersby, organ (Father Willis, 1864; St. Michael and All Angels
Church, Great Torrington, UK).  Albany
440 (Spiritual fantasy).

—– 4. Obangiji.*  Duration: 3:48.

CD: David
Hurd, organ (1961 Holtkamp, Fisk University, Nashville).

—- for woodwind
quintet.  Richmond VA: International Opus

The spinning song,
for string orchestra.

The wedding day, for SSA,
percussion & piano.

To a pupil, for
tenor & string orchestra.
To arms.*

To daffodils, for voice & piano.

To the colors.*


Valse galante, for orchestra.  London: Bosworth’s.

Via dolorosa, for organ.

Wedding song, for SS (1957).
Text: E. Fielding Kirk.  Based on
a Yorùbá folksong, Tún mi gbé.

Words, for TTBB.
New York: Ricordi.

3 Yorùbá songs, for piano.  1.
Oyígíyigì; Exercise in thirds; 2. A Yorùbá lullaby
[based on Taní bá mi lợm ọ wí]; 3. Ènìyàn yępęrę ló nma jé.

—–3. Ènìyàn yepere ló nma jé, for voice & piano (1954).


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(1972/II) p14.

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Agawu, V. Kofi.  “The impact
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v28n1 (1984) p37-73.

—–.  “Representing African
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—–.  Fęlá Şowándé; The life and works of an
African composer
.  Graduate paper (Ph.D.) University of Ibadan,

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—–.  “Biographical notes on the composers” in Symposium of symphonic music by Black
composers, Baltimore
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AAMOA Press, 1973, p11-14.

—–.  Black music in our culture; Curricular ideas on the subjects,
materials, and problems
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—–.  “Fęlá Şowándé’s world
of music; A memorial lecture” in African art music in Nigeria, ed. by
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—–.  “A centennial epitome
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—–.  “Fela Sowande obituary” in Black
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—–.  “Sowande, Fela” in Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and
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[1] Titles with an asterisk are controlled by Universal/MCA
(ASCAP).  The contents of the Anderson,
Warfield, and Williams recordings have not been determined.

[2] Brooks 1999 give the date of composition as being both 1930 and
“late 1930s.”

[3] Vidal 2001 (p97) cites the second movement as Ompa, and  the fourth as The dance [based on Onídòdò

[4] Brooks 1999 lists this as an opera.

[5] The first movement uses an Égbádò folksong, Èyin èdá e má
ràròpin ò
, the second uses Olele, the third Afẹfẹ yèyè, and
the final movement uses Ó gbaya ọya. Themes of the first movement are
notated in Bátéyẹ’s analysis, p125-126.
Levinson (1962) claimed the work was more European than African.  Brooks 1999 errs in citing this work as two
different compositions, Folks symphony and Nigerian folk symphony

[6] Sadoh 2003 (p19 of  “A
profile of Nigerian organist-composers”) indicates the première took place in
1962 by the New York Philharmonic, in Carnegie Hall.

[7] There is a possibility this suite was assembled from existing works
for  this publication and recording.

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