Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Manuscript Group 9, Pennsylvania Writers’ Collection, 1899–1970, at the Pennsylvania State Archives includes nine original musical scores by the noted African American composer, arranger, and baritone singer Henry Thacker Burleigh. Born in Erie, Erie County, on December 2, 1866, he was admitted to the National Conservancy of Music in New York City where he served as a copyist for Antonin Dvorak who greatly admired his singing of spirituals. Playing the double bass and timpani in the conservancy orchestra, Burleigh studied voice with Christian Fritsch and music theory with Rubin Goldmark, John White, and Max Spicker, and graduated in 1896. He served as a soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York City beginning in 1894, and from 1900 to 1925 was a member of the choir of Temple Emanu-El, a synagogue in New York.

While employed as a voice teacher at the Will Marion Cook School of Music in New York in 1911, he accepted a position as a music editor for the New York branch of the Milan-based Italian music publisher G. Ricordi and Company, that began publishing his works in 1917. He began writing arrangements of traditional Negro spirituals for voice and piano.

In the course of his career, Burleigh wrote 265 vocal works and made 187 choral arrangements. Among the honors bestowed on him during the course of his career were the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Springarn Achievement Medal in 1917, the Harmon Foundation Award in 1929, an honorary M.A. degree from Atlanta University in 1918, and an honorary D.M.A. degree from Howard University in 1920. Near the end of his life, he was welcomed as an honored member of the Erie chapter of the American Guild of Organists in 1943. He died in Stamford, Connecticut, on December 12, 1949.

Burleigh’s “A Corn Song” (above) with words by noted African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar was copyrighted by G. Ricordi and Company in 1920.

Important Pennsylvania writers whose works also appear in this manuscript group include Stephen Collins Foster, Lloyd Mifflin, Conrad Richter, Ida Tarbell, and Owen Wister.