Isaiah Allen Jackson (born 22 January 1945) is an African American conductor of world renown. He has recently concluded a seven-year term as conductor of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, of which he has been named Conductor Emeritus. He is the first African-American to be appointed to a music directorship in the Boston area.
Isaiah Jackson was born in a predominantly black neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, the son of an orthopedic surgeon (also named Isaiah Allen Jackson) and his wife Alma Alverta Jackson née Norris. His grandfather was also a surgeon. Arthur Ashe was one of his childhood friends. When he was 2 years old, he fell on a milk bottle and severed the tendons of his wrist. His father prescribed music lessons for therapy, which he began at age 4, showing immediate dedication and aptitude. From age 14, he studied at Putney, a progressive, integrated and academically intense private boarding school near Brattleboro in Vermont. During his time there, he traveled with his high school class to the former Soviet Union. He also took part in a picket of the local Woolworth's store in support of the lunch counter sit-ins that were happening in the South for equality and equal access for African-Americans.
Jackson studied Russian history and literature at Harvard University, from which he graduated cum laude in 1966. While there, he had the opportunity to conduct Mozart's opera Così fan tutte, which helped him decide to pursue music as a career. Subsequently, he went to Stanford University and received his M.A. in music in 1969. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Fontainebleau, France, before going to the Juilliard School in New York, from which he graduated D.M.A. in 1973. He also studied at Aspen, Colorado and Tanglewood. At Harvard, he is a Fellow in the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute.
He founded the Juilliard String Ensemble and was its first conductor 1970-71. He was associate or assistant conductor with the American Symphony Orchestra (1970-71) where he worked with Leopold Stokowski; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (1971-73); and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (1973-87). He was appointed music director of the Flint Symphony Orchestra (Flint, Michigan) in 1982, the first black music director of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in 1987 (where he conducted Dayton's first-ever performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 8, Symphony of a Thousand), and principal conductor of The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, in 1986, and became its music director 1987-90. He was the first black and the first American to occupy a chief position with the company.
He has been a guest conductor with such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, 1978; San Francisco Symphony, 1984; Detroit Symphony Orchestra, 1983 and 1985; Cleveland Orchestra, 1983-84, 1986-87, and 1989-92; Boston Pops, 1983 and 1990-92 (he was the orchestra's first black conductor, and the first black conductor to lead the annual "Gospel Night" program),Toronto Symphony Orchestra, 1984 and 1990; Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, 1985 and 1988; BBC Concert Orchestra, 1987; and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, 1989-91. He has also conducted the Vienna Symphony (European debut, July 1973), Houston Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Grant Park Festival Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Malmo Symphony, Gaeveleborg Symphony, Czech Symphony Orchestra (at the opening of the Prague Autumn International Music Festival), Stockholm Symphonic Wind Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, RAI Orchestra, Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.. He has also performed with the Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Spoleto Festival in Italy and at the Royal Opera House, London. He was also music director of the New York Youth Symphony. In 1973, at Leonard Bernstein's suggestion, he was Artistic Director of the Vienna Youth Music Festival. He was the first person of colour to conduct the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. He is a particular favorite in Australia, having been principal guest conductor of the Queensland Orchestra in Brisbane for three years and of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra; he has also led the Sydney Symphony, West Australian Symphony, Tasmanian Symphony, Adelaide Symphony, and Melbourne Symphony orchestras. He is also Musician in Residence at the Memorial Church, Harvard University.
While conducting at Rochester, he met his wife Helen Tuntland, president of Hochstein School of Music and Dance and a consultant in the field of music education. They have three children, Benjamin, Katharine and Caroline. In 1987, he and his family moved to Hammersmith, London. He acknowledges he is an anglophile and he has conducted before members of Britain's royal family on several occasions. He speaks five languages.
He has served as a member of the board of directors of the Ralph Bunche Scholarship Fund, and a member of the music panel of the New York State Council on the Arts.
Isaiah Jackson won the first Governor's Award for the Arts of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1979; and in 1991 he was awarded the Signet Society Medal for Achievements in the Arts, awarded by the Signet Society of Harvard University.
His recordings include music by Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa, Franz Waxman (For the Fallen), William Grant Still, Alberto Ginastera, William Mathias and Nigel Butterley. He recorded the Berlin Symphony's New Year's Eve concert. Jackson conducted the Louisville Orchestra and gospel choirs from the Louisville, Kentucky area under the direction of Alvin Parris III. The CD grew out of a project between Jackson and Parris. The project was presented in fourteen U.S. cities; it also opened the Brisbane Biennial Festival of Music and was performed in the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
He was formerly Artist-in-Residence at the University of Dayton, where he taught Philosophy of Music. He has been Visiting Professor of Conducting at the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin's premier conservatory. He has also taught at Juilliard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and Youngstown State University.
Dr. Jackson currently teaches at the Berklee College of Music, the Harvard Extension School, and the Longy School of Music. He is also President of Rhythm, Rhyme, Results, an educational music company specializing in curriculum-based educational rap and pop songs.