Ulysses Kay (January 7, 1917, Tucson, Arizona - May 20, 1995, Englewood, New Jersey) was an African-American composer. His music is mostly neoclassical in style.
Kay, the nephew of the classic jazz musician King Oliver, studied piano, violin and saxophone. Kay attended the University of Arizona where he was encouraged by the African-American composer William Grant Still. He went for graduate work to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and there worked under Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers.
Ulysses Kay met the eminent neoclassical composer Paul Hindemith in the summer of 1941 at the Berkshire Music Center and followed Hindemith to Yale for a formative year of study from 1941 to 1942.
After a stint as a musician in the United States Navy during the World War II, Ulysses Kay studied at Columbia University under Otto Luening with the assistance of a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. In addition to this prize, Kay received a series of five other significant awards in the year following his discharge from the Navy including the Alice M. Ditson Fellowship, a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an award from the American Composers and American Broadcasting Company, a $500 award from the third annual George Gershwin Memorial Contest for "A Short Overture," and a $700 award from the American Composers Alliance for his "Suite for Orchestra."
Following this successful period, he lived and studied further in Rome from 1949 to 1953 thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, the Rome Prize and a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship.
Kay worked for Broadcast Music, Inc., a performing arts organization, from 1953 to 1968. In 1968 he was appointed distinguished professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York. After two decades teaching there, he retired.
As a composer Kay was known primarily for his symphonic and choral compositions. He also wrote five operas. His final opera, Frederick Douglass, was mounted in April 1991 at the New Jersey State Opera with Kevin Maynor in the title role and Klara Barlow as Helen Pitts Douglass.
A resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, Kay died due to complications of Parkinson's disease at the age of 78 at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center on May 20, 1995.
The Juggler of Our Lady, opera in one act,
Libretto by Alexander King after the story by Anatole France.
composed 1956; premiere February 23, 1962, Xavier University Opera Workshop, New Orleans, Louisiana
Libretto by the composer after the play by Anton Chekov, translated by Vladimir Ussachevsky.
composed 1955; premiere April 2, 1968, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky
The Capitoline Venus, opera in one act,
Libretto by Judith Dvorkin after an episode in the writings of Mark Twain.
composed 1969; premiere March 12, 1971, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Jubilee, opera in three acts,
Libretto by Donald Dorr after the novel by Margaret Walker.
November 19, 1976, Opera/South, Jackson, Mississippi
Frederick Douglass, opera in three acts,
Libretto by Donald Dorr.
composed 1979-85; premiere April 14, 1991, New Jersey State Opera, Newark Symphony Hall, Newark, NJ
Program notes by Dominique-René de Lerma for the African Heritage Symphonic Series Volume II (Cedille Records CDR 90000 061)