Musician, composer, and conductor Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was born on June 14, 1932, in Manhattan, New York City. Perkinson’s mother, a talented pianist, organist, and theater director in the Bronx, named her son after the Afro-British composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Perkinson began showing an interest in music at a very young age and in 1945 he began attending New York’s High School of Music and Art. In 1948, he won the prestigious High School Music and Art Choral Competition with his composition titled And Behold. Perkinson graduated from the high school in 1949 and that same year he won the coveted LaGuardia Prize for Music.
After high school, Perkinson attended New York University where he was an education major until 1951, intending to become a public school teacher. In that year, however he decided instead to focus on music and transferred to the Manhattan School of Music where he became a composition major. Perkinson studied under influential figures such as Charles Mills, Vittorio Giannini, and Jonel Perlea. He graduated in 1953 and during the summer of 1954 began taking courses in conducting at the Berkshire Music Center in Massachusetts while at the same time studying under renowned composer Earl Kim at Princeton University. In 1960, Perkinson traveled to Holland, where he spent three years pursuing his studies in conducting under Maestros Dean Dixon and Franco Ferrara at the Netherlands Radio Union at Hilversum.
Perkinson had a long and successful career in the music industry. He worked as a music director and arranger for many famous jazz and soul artists including Marvin Gaye, Barbara McNair, Lou Rawls, Donald Byrd, Max Roach, Melvin Van Peebles, and Harry Belafonte. Perkinson also composed numerous musical scores for the stage, film, and television. He wrote ballet scores for dance companies like Dance Theater of Harlem, Alvin Ailey, and the Pomare Dance Company. He also wrote and conducted the scores for award winning films such as Montgomery to Memphis, a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr., and A Warm December, a film both starring and directed by Sidney Poitier. Perkinson also wrote the theme songs for several hit network television shows including Get Christie Love! and Room 222.
In 1965, Perkinson co-founded the Symphony of the New World, which he also conducted from 1965 to 1970. In addition to writing and conducting, Perkinson also held various teaching positions, including a job at Indiana University from 1997 to 1998. From 1998 until his death in 2004, he worked as the Coordinator of Performance Activities at Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Black Music Research. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson passed away on March 9, 2004 in Chicago, Illinois. The year after his death a wide-range compilation of his music was released on an album titled Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004); A Celebration.