1932–

H. Leslie Adams

The composer and pianist H. Leslie Adams has had a long and illustrious career. Now in his nineties, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1932. Adams studied voice, piano, and composition at Oberlin College and went on to earn a master’s degree in music from the California State University at Long Beach in 1967 and a Ph.D. from Ohio State in 1973. He served for many years as a choral conductor and educator, before becoming a full-time composer in 1979. Adams is most famous for his vocal works—including almost fifty songs for piano and voice—but he has also written numerous instrumental compositions, among them a ballet (A Kiss in Xanadu), a piano concerto, a symphony, and many sonatas.

Adams’s songs are profoundly lyrical, with beautiful, long-breathed melodies and inventive, often vividly pictorial piano textures. His songwriting style is polyglot, mingling classical tonality with elements of jazz and African-American folksong. Among Adams’s best songs are the the Five Millay Songs (1960), based on poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Nightsongs (1961), a set of six songs on poems by African-American poets.

Additional Resources

Did you know?

In 2015 H. Leslie Adams won the Cleveland Arts Prize Life Achievement Award for his career as a pianist and a composer.

Video Recordings

Countertenor Darryl Taylor and pianist Maria Thompson Corley perform Adams's "Dream Song" (2016). The performance occurred on April 18, 2008, as part of An Evening with Darryl Taylor at the Marc A. Scorca Hall, National Opera Center, New York, New York.
Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and pianist Laura Ward perform Adams's "Prayer," from Nightsongs (1961). The performance occurred on September 25, 2016 at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
Countertenor Darryl Taylor and pianist Maria Thompson Corley perform Adams's "Sence You Went Away," from Nightsongs (1961). The performance occurred on April 18, 2008, as part of An Evening with Darryl Taylor at the Marc A. Scorca Hall, National Opera Center, New York, New York.
Baritone Phillip Harris and pianist Marvin Mills perform Adams's "Coming Back to Cleveland" (2016). The performance occurred on February 10, 2017 at Winifred Smith Hall at the University of California, Irvine, as part of a concert called An Evening Potpourri, organized by the African American Art Song Alliance (artsongalliance.org).

Accessing Scores

H. Leslie Adams’s song scores (as well as other scores) are published by the American Composers Alliance. They can be purchased as downloadable PDFs or as printed scores.

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