On this day in 1968, Henry Lewis became the first Black conductor/music director of a major American orchestra


Henry Lewis, left, 35-year-old conductor from Los Angeles, named musical director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, is shown with Henry P. Becton, president of the Board of Trustees of the orchestra, in Newark, N.J., on Feb. 15, 1968. Becton, who takes over June 1, is the first black American to be named musical director of an American symphony orchestra. (AP Photo)
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Henry Lewis broke racial barriers on Feb. 15, 1968, when he was named director of the New Jersey Symphony, becoming the first Black conductor and music director of a major American orchestra. He also was the first African-American to conduct at New York’s world-famous Metropolitan Opera.

Born Oct. 16, 1932, in Los Angeles, he began studying piano at age five and later played the clarinet and several string instruments. At age 16, he became a double-bassist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Orchestra and for the Seventh Army Symphony, which he also conducted in Germany while serving overseas in the United States Armed Forces.

Lewis founded the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra after his discharge, but gained national recognition in 1961 when he was appointed assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

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