Saturday, August 19, 2006

Hold On - composer Jester Hairston

One of the works we are doing this year is "Hold On" by Jester Hairston. Here is a little bit about him, found here.

Jester Hairston (born Jestie, nicknamed by a first grade teacher) was born in Belews Creek, North Carolina, in 1902. He spent most of his 98 years as a choral director, educator, actor, singer, composer and arranger.

His first experience spreading his love of music was in the summer after his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts - while working on the Boston docks, he taught his fellow workers to sing. He later went off to study music at Tufts University, performing in the school's musical thater organizations and graduating in 1929. He returned to Tufts in 1979 to accept an honorary Doctorate in Music, one of four honorary degrees he was awarded.

His first paying job teaching music was at a music school in Harlem, a job he obtained through the post-Depression U.S. Government Works Program Administration. At the same time he joined the Hall Johnson Choir, the most prominent Black singing group of the 1930s.

While in Los Angeles with the choir, Jester met Russian film composer Dimitri Tiomkin, and a 30-year collaboration was begun. Hairston arranged the music for every one of Tiomkin's films, including the Academy Award winner "Lost Horizon." The two of them were also responsible for "Guns of Navarone," "Gunfight at the OK Corral" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," among many others - some of the many accomplishments that Hairston's star on the Walk Of Fame.

Through Jester appeared in many films and TV shows in the ensuing decades, some of what he was best known for were his roles in the radio and TV shows of "Amos and Andy" - he played Leroy and Henry Van Porter - and his role as Deacon Rolly Forbes in the TV show "Amen." Other credits include the words and lyrics to the Harry Belafonte hit "Mary's Little Boy Chile," and the voice of Sydney Poitier in the film "Lillies in the Field." He also conducted the first integrated choir in Hollywood.

Jester Hairston's body of work is an institution in the choral and a cappella worlds. He wrote and arranged more than 300 spirituals, and generations of choral singers have grown up on his works. Even into his 90s, he continued to tour the world conducting choirs and acting as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department.

Jester Hairston died in January 2000.

1 comment:

ScoMo said...

Jester conducted a combined choirs concert I performed in in 1983. What an awesome gentleman! I remember his enthusiasm and love of life. I teach choir now and enjoy telling about the good ol' days when the composer told us stories of his songs.