A. Jack Thomas music manuscripts
Scope and Contents
The A. Jack Thomas music manuscripts, 1940-1941, are comprised of manuscript full scores and instrumental parts for three orchestral compositions. These compositions include Scenes Pastoral, Etude en Noir, and the symphonic tone poem Mirage (A fantasy of the desert). The scores and parts appear to be original manuscript versions of each composition.
- Thomas, A. Jack, 1884-1962 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for use at the Peabody Archives.
Conditions Governing Use
Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.
Biographical / Historical
Alfred Jack Thomas was a composer and conductor. Born in Pittsburgh in 1884, Thomas began music lessons at a young age, learning trumpet, mandolin, and violin. Upon winning an athletic scholarship, Thomas attended Washington and Jefferson College, graduating in 1903. After graduation he enlisted in the army, serving in the 10th U.S. Cavalry at Fort McKenzie, Wyoming. The unit was segregated, being one of only four Black units in the United States Army. While serving in the army, Thomas had the opportunity to study at the National Conservatory of Music in Manila, the Institute of Musical Art of New York, and the School for Bandmasters at Chaumont, France. While in New York, Thomas studied with conductor and composer Walter Damrosch.
In 1917 Thomas joined the 368th Infantry, 92nd Division, where he served as the first Black bandmaster from 1917 to 1918. He served overseas for a short time and soon thereafter was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. In 1919 Thomas was honorably discharged and settled in Baltimore.
In 1919, Thomas opened his own music school, the Aeolian Conservatory, in response to the segregation of schools in the area. His mission was to open a conservatory where all people were welcome to study music. He would often advertise in the Afro-American newspaper, stating that the Aeolian Conservatory had equally high standards as the Peabody Conservatory, which did not admit Black students at that time.
In 1924, Thomas was named director of the music department at Morgan College and later became a faculty member at Howard University. Thomas conducted several bands including the Elks Band and the A. Jack Thomas Jazz Orchestra. He also directed the Colored City Band, part of Baltimore's municipal music program, from its founding in 1922 until 1927. In the 1930s, Thomas was also involved in the New York music scene, opening his own music studio and becoming associate conductor of the Negro Symphony Orchestra.
In 1941 Thomas was a finalist in a composition competition in Washington, D.C., where his tone poem Etude en Noir was premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra. The piece features musical elements of American dance rhythms, blues, and spirituals. In January 1946 he led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the work, becoming the first African American conductor to appear with the ensemble.
Other compositions of Thomas's include the orchestral works Scenes Pastoral and Mirage, a march entitled Sons of Liberty, and smaller works for voice and piano.
In 1946 Thomas founded the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts, a school open to all students regardless of race, which operated until the early 1950s. Thomas died in 1962.
Source: Jones, James Nathan. "Alfred Jack Thomas (1884-1962): Musician, Composer, Educator." Master's thesis, Morgan State University, 1978.
1.31 Cubic Feet (2 medium flat boxes, 1 large flat box)
Language of Materials
Alfred Jack Thomas was an African American composer, educator, and conductor who served as a bandmaster in the United States Army and became the first African American to conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The A. Jack Thomas papers contain manuscript scores and instrumental parts for three of his compositions for orchestra: Mirage, Scenes Pastoral, and Etude en Noir.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
There is no known acquisition information for this collection.
Existence and Location of Copies
Scores for Etude en Noir and Scenes Pastoral and the poem Scenes Pastoral: A Day in the Park have been digitized. These are available through the A. Jack Thomas Collection in the Digital Collections in the Friedheim Library at http://cdm16613.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16613coll23
Processed by Kerri Sheehan in 2017 and by other archives staff members prior to 2016.
Biographical note revised in 2022 by Matt Testa. Context and information sources added.
- Thomas, A. Jack, 1884-1962 (Person)
- Guide to the A. Jack Thomas music manuscripts
- Kerri Sheehan; Matt Testa
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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