Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was a versatile African-American musician – composer, conductor, pianist and drummer – familiar both in jazz, pop and classical music. He came from an artistic family and his mother named him after the African-British composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor.
Perkinson studied music at the Manhattan School of Music and Princeton University. He co-founded and conducted the Symphony of the New World, and served as music director of Jerome Robbins’ American Theater Lab and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. After 1998 he was affiliated with the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College in Chicago.
Perkinson’s music is eclectic, drawing its inspiration from the Baroque, Romanticism, blues, and spirituals. His extensive catalog includes many vocal works, violin, viola, and cello concertos, 12 film scores, five ballets, two piano sonatas, and two sinfoniettas.
Perkinson composed Grass in 1956, an afterthought of the Korean war. The inspiration was the eponymous poem by Carl Sandburg, mourning the brutality of war and the grass that grows eternally over the graves and the bodies of the dead soldiers.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.