Williams-Howard Prize

The RNCM is raising funds for a new annual singing competition that celebrates and encourages the study and performance of art songs of composers of African heritage.

We are passionate about encouraging the next generation of musicians and performers to keep music from African heritage alive.

Led by RNCM tutor Michael Harper, whose international career as a countertenor has uncovered the distinct and worrying lack of performances of art songs of African heritage, we are working to ensure that these songs are known, celebrated, performed and not lost and forgotten.

This year we have established the Williams-Howard Prize – a new annual competition to be held at the RNCM that celebrates and encourages the study and performance of art songs of composers of African heritage.

It is the first prize of its type in Europe, and will celebrate both singers and collaborative pianists, with financial prizes for both as well as for the opportunity for the winners to perform at RNCM and Buxton Festival, and mentoring and coaching through the Cooper Hall Foundation (Frome, Somerset). Participants will learn and perform repertoire from the great spirituals of Harry T. Burleigh, songs of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, William Grant Still, Margaret Price, Undine Smith Moore, Errollyn Wallen, Shirley Thompson, and Dominique Le Gendre.

Our vision is that the new generation of professional singers and pianists embrace this work and that they are not forgotten but embedded firmly into the canon. This prize will celebrate rarely heard songs, influenced by international arts movements – serialism, neo-classicism, modernism, minimalism, and culturally specific movements such as Pan Africanism, the Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights, and the Black Arts Movement. It will champion the recent renaissance of art and music in the African diaspora and a burgeoning of new art music.

Generous donors have supported the first year of this prize, but our aim is to raise £50,000 that will become an Endowed Prize, to secure the future of this important competition for many, many years to come.

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