Composition in Black and White: The Life of Philippa Schuyler

Composition in Black and White: The Life of Philippa Schuyler

Oxford University Press
January 1995
360 pages
47 halftones
6-1/8 x 9-1/4
ISBN13: 978-0-19-511393-8
ISBN10: 0-19-511393-4

Kathryn Talalay

The Tragic Saga of Harlem’s Biracial Prodigy

George Schuyler, a renowned and controversial black journalist of the Harlem Renaissance, and Josephine Cogdell, a blond, blue-eyed Texas heiress and granddaughter of slave owners, believed that intermarriage would “invigorate” the races, thereby producing extraordinary offspring. Their daughter, Philippa Duke Schuyler, became the embodiment of this theory, and they hoped she would prove that interracial children represented the final solution to America’s race problems.

Able to read and write at the age of two and a half, a pianist at four, and a composer by five, Philippa was often compared to Mozart. During the 1930s and 40s she graced the pages of Time and Look magazines, the New York Herald Tribune , and The New Yorker . But as an adult she mysteriously dropped out of sight, leaving America to wonder what had happened to the “little Harlem genius.” Suffering the double sting of racial and gender bias, Philippa was forced to find recognition abroad, where she traveled constantly, performing for kings and queens, and always in search of her self. At the age of thirty-five, Philippa finally began to embark on a racial catharsis: she was just beginning to find herself when on May 9, 1967, while on an unauthorized mission of mercy, her life was cut short in a helicopter crash over the waters of war-torn Vietnam.

The first authorized biography of Philippa Schuyler, Composition in Black and White draws on previously unpublished letters and diaries to reveal an extraordinary and complex personality. Extensive research and personal interviews from around the world make this book not only the definitive chronicle of Schuyler’s restless and haunting life, but also a vivid history of the tumultuous times she lived through. Talalay has created a highly perceptive and provocative portrait of a fascinating woman.

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