Tragic Mulatto Girl Wonder: The paradoxical life of Philippa Duke Schuyler

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2010-01-10 01:41Z by Steven

Tragic Mulatto Girl Wonder: The paradoxical life of Philippa Duke Schuyler

QBR The Black Book Review
February/March 1996

Lise Funderburg

Composition in Black and White: The Life of Philippa Schuyler
by Kathryn Talalay
Oxford University Press (317 pp.)
Hardcover ISBN 0-19-509608-8

As a child prodigy, pianist and composer, Philippa Duke Schuyler incited both awe and envy. Performing at the 1939 New York World’s Fair when she was just eight, she seemed to live a charmed life, full of whirlwind concert tours in distant lands, where she met politicians, artists and royals. But while she was known as a gifted and serious musician and, later, a journalist, she was also viewed as the quintessential tragic mulatto. (Her father was the conservative black journalist and satirical novelist George Schuyler; her mother, a rebellious white Southern belle who married across the color line.) She seemed trapped at times by her talents and the constraints of relentlessly watchful parents whose aspirations for her were often suffocating. She acquired a reputation both as a temptress whose greatest interest in life was men and sex and as a perpetually frightened child. When she died in 1967, at age 35, in a helicopter crash in Vietnam during a war-orphan airlift, she met with a final irony. For all her achievements and worldliness, she could not swim to save her life…

…Talalay places Philippa’s racial identity at the center of this biography and rightfully so. Here was a woman whose parents placed tremendous expectations on her to transcend race, even as her music career was constantly limited by it. Philippa had few opportunities to make real friends among any racial group and never developed a community of support beyond her immediate family, which had its own tensions and estrangements. Her father, who adored her, was frequently away on reporting trips. As Philippa grew older, she began to see his politics and his color as embarrassments. When he ventured to spend five pages of a 150-word manuscript, The Negro in America, on his daughter, she wrote to her mother from Europe: “Get me OUT of that book. Everyone here thinks of me as a Latin, and that’s the way I want it. Anyone who had any paternal sentiments would want a child to escape suffering.” Her mother, whom the author describes as “forever Machiavellian,” collaborated on Philippa’s many acts of racial passing. As Talalay found in her research into George Schuyler’s papers, to this day the manuscript has not one, but three blank pieces of paper taped over each of the five pages concerning Philippa…

Read the entire book review here.

Tags: , , , ,

Composition in Black and White: The Life of Philippa Schuyler

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2010-01-09 21:17Z by Steven

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.

Tags: , , , , ,