Adolphus Hailstork is a prolific composer who has written over 250 works in just about every genre imaginable: symphonies, operas, cantatas, concertos, chamber music, choral pieces, songs, and more. A native of upstate New York, he currently resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is professor emeritus of composition at Old Dominion University.
Hailstork has described his musical style as having a kind of “cultural hybridity,” since it borrows from both European and Black American traditions. Even as mid 20th-century compositional trends shifted toward extreme dissonance and atonality, Hailstork hewed closely to lyricism and tonality, all the while experimenting with different idioms. In a 2021 interview he said, “I once read an essay about the two threads—a modernist thread and populist thread—that entered into the 20th century. You can pick one or the other. I’m more on the populist side: tonal, lyrical. I am interested in a continuation rather than a breaking away from.” His musical style was shaped in part by his early experience as a boy chorister in an Episcopal church: “I came up in a high church, an Episcopal cathedral, traditional Anglican style. I was a boy soprano, did the whole nine yards. … I was strongly influenced by my experience in the cathedral. … The cadences, the melodic inflections, etc. in my music were very strongly influenced by that.”
Hailstork has been writing for solo voice for over sixty years, starting with his first set of songs (Lollipops), written in 1959, and continuing to the present day. Among his most extraordinary songs are the cycles Summer. Life. Song. (nine Emily Dickinson settings for voice and string quartet), Ventriloquist Acts of God (five songs for soprano and voice based on poetry by Ellen Wise), Songs of Love and Justice (four songs that set the words of Martin Luther King Jr.), and Four Romantic Love Songs (settings of poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar).
- We, Too, Sing America: African American Voices of Song, Episode 2, Adolphus Hailstork, January 5, 2021 [includes commentary from Hailstork himself]. We, Too, Sing America is a docu-series created by Aural Compass Projects, a non-profit music organization dedicated to performing new and less-performed works.
- McGinty, Doris Evans. “Adams, [Harrison] Leslie.” Grove Music Online, edited by Deane Root.
- Entry about Adolphus Hailstork on the African American Art Song Alliance.
- Adolphus Hailstork official website.
- Blalock, Angela Renee. “An Analysis of Selected Art Songs for High Voice by Adolphus Hailstork, A Performer’s Guide.” DMA thesis, University of Southern California, 2016.
- Songs of Love and Justice. Louise Toppin, soprano; John O’Brien, piano; Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Julius P. Williams. Albany Records TROY1878, 2021, compact disc.