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T.J. Anderson

Composer and music professor Thomas Jefferson Anderson was born on August 17, 1928 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Anderson attended West Virginia State College and Pennsylvania State University, where he received his B.A. degree in music and his M.Ed. degree in music education in 1950 and 1951, respectively. Anderson studied composition at the Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music in 1954, before obtaining his Ph.D. degree in music at the University of Iowa in 1958. Anderson also studied composition at the Aspen School of Music in 1964 with Darius Milhaud

Anderson was hired as a professor of music at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma, where he became chair of the music department. He then served as a music professor at Tennessee State University before being named composer-in-residence with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1969. During his three year tenure at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Anderson orchestrated the Scott Joplin opera Treemonisha and in 1972, the first full staging of Joplin’s work took place. His first opera, Soldier Boy, based on a libretto by writer Leon Forrest, was commissioned by Indiana University. After a visiting professorship at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Anderson was hired as a professor of music and department chair at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts in 1972.

As a lecturer, consultant, and visiting composer, Anderson has taught at institutions in the United States, Brazil, Germany, France and Switzerland. He has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Arts, the Djerassi Foundation, the National Humanities Center and a scholar-in-residence at the Rockefeller Center for the Creative Arts in Bellagio, Italy. Anderson has accumulated numerous honors throughout his illustrious career, including an honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation. He has received honorary doctorates from the College of Holy Cross, West Virginia State College, Bridgewater State College, St. Augustine’s College, Northwestern University, Bates College and Tufts University. In March, 1997, he was honored as a founder and first president of the National Black Music Caucus, now NASPAAM with a concert of his music. In 2005, Anderson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Anderson and his wife, Lois, have three adult children, a son, Thomas J. Anderson and two daughters, Janet Anderson and Anita Anderson Downing.

T.J. Anderson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 19, 2012.

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Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
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Middle Name



University of Iowa

Pennsylvania State University

West Virginia State University

University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music

Monroe School

Harriet Beecher Stowe Junior High School

S. Horace Scott Senior High School

Speakers Bureau


First Name


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Favorite Vacation Destination

San Diego, California

Favorite Quote

It Is What It Is

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chapel Hill



Favorite Food

Bread (Rolls)

Short Description

Music composer T.J. Anderson (1928 - ) was a leading composers of the twentieth century. He composed over eighty works, including operas, symphonies, choral pieces, chamber music and band music, and was the recipient of numerous honors, including seven honorary doctorates.


Tufts University

Morehouse College

Tennessee State University

Langston University

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

West Virginia State College (Institute, W. Va.)

High Point Public Schools

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of T.J. Anderson's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - T.J. Anderson lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - T.J. Anderson describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - T.J. Anderson talks about his maternal grandfather's career as a minister</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - T.J. Anderson remembers his early interest in jazz music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - T.J. Anderson describes his mother's upbringing</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - T.J. Anderson describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - T.J. Anderson describes his father's education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - T.J. Anderson describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - T.J. Anderson lists his siblings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - T.J. Anderson describes sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - T.J. Anderson remembers his early exposure to classical music</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - T.J. Anderson describes his first experiences with classical music and jazz</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - T.J. Anderson remembers S. Horace Scott Senior High School in Coatesville, Pennsylvania</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - T.J. Anderson recalls his extracurricular activities at S. Horace Scott Senior High School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - T.J. Anderson remembers his influential high school teachers</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - T.J. Anderson recalls his decision to attend West Virginia State College in Institute, West Virginia</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - T.J. Anderson remembers his influences at West Virginia State College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - T.J. Anderson describes his involvement in the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - T.J. Anderson remembers his father's friendship with Paul Robeson</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - T.J. Anderson remembers his family's political activities</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - T.J. Anderson remembers Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - T.J. Anderson reflects upon the relationship between language, rhythm and culture</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - T.J. Anderson describes his experiences of Eurocentrism in academic music curricula</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - T.J. Anderson describes the start of his Ph.D. degree program</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - T.J. Anderson remembers completing his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - T.J. Anderson talks about his creative process</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - T.J. Anderson describes his family's reaction to his Ph.D. degree</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - T.J. Anderson remembers meeting his wife</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - T.J. Anderson recalls meeting Melvin B. Tolson at Langston University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - T.J. Anderson describes Melvin B. Tolson's poetry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 10 - T.J. Anderson remembers teaching at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - T.J. Anderson remembers his mentor, Edward C. Lewis</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - T.J. Anderson recalls his introduction to 'Treemonisha'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - T.J. Anderson describes the history of the opera 'Treemonisha'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - T.J. Anderson compares the works of Scott Joplin and George Gershwin</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - T.J. Anderson remembers the process of reconstructing 'Treemonisha'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - T.J. Anderson talks about the music of 'Treemonisha'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - T.J. Anderson remembers the first staging of 'Treemonisha'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - T.J. Anderson talks about the role of performers as interpreters</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - T.J. Anderson talks about his academic career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 10 - T.J. Anderson describes his accomplishments at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - T.J. Anderson describes his accomplishments at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - T.J. Anderson remembers receiving his first honorary degree</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - T.J. Anderson talks about his awards and honors, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - T.J. Anderson describes his musical compositions</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - T.J. Anderson talks about his awards and honors, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - T.J. Anderson remembers meeting William Grant Still</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - T.J. Anderson remembers William Levi Dawson</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - T.J. Anderson remembers meeting Eubie Blake and Florence Price</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - T.J. Anderson describes the importance of black representation in majority universities</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - T.J. Anderson talks about racial discrimination in the classical music community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - T.J. Anderson describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - T.J. Anderson reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - T.J. Anderson reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - T.J. Anderson reflects upon his relationship with his wife</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - T.J. Anderson describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - T.J. Anderson narrates his photographs</a>







T.J. Anderson describes his first experiences with classical music and jazz
T.J. Anderson talks about the music of 'Treemonisha'
As a little kid you listened to classical music and you (unclear) (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Oh yes, very much so. I listened to--in fact that's about all we had in our home, classical music. I mean I, I--and when I say classical music I'm talking about the classical music of Paul Robeson, I'm talking about the classical music of Philippa Schuyler, I'm talking about the classical music of people like James Weldon Johnson, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, I'm talking about the classical music of William Grant Still, William Dawson [William Levi Dawson]. I, I mean there's a whole litany of people that--that were represented in my--who I consider myself a descendant of. In other words, I'm a descendant of this tradition. So, that's the way I fit in.$$And was the violin your first instrument in terms of?$$The violin and then the piano, and then trumpet, then saxophone, then bassoon, I mean that's the order that they, they came.$$So when did you say you started playing the violin?$$About six years old, six or seven, yeah seven.$$You're about six--seven, okay. Now, this is both--you were living both in the Coatesville [Pennsylvania] area, right?$$No, this is Washington, D.C.$$D.C., okay. Then you moved to Coatesville?$$I moved to Coatesville when I failed seventh grade (unclear).$$Right, you--okay. Well what happened during that seventh grade period?$$I discovered jazz (laughter).$$That's basically it?$$Yeah, that's basically it. And, and of course that's where my mother [Anita Turpeau Anderson] and I parted, you know. And I can understand what she wanted, but what she wanted wasn't what I wanted inf- and as it turned out it ben- it saved my life, really. I mean in other words, I'd have been just another classical composer, I mean and that's not what I lucked up on. I lucked up on finding the Howard Theatre [Washington, D.C.]. I lucked up on hearing Jimmie Lunceford, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines [Earl "Fatha" Hines]. I mean just all the big bands that came through there with package shows, I heard. And so when I went to Cincinnati [Ohio] and went to the Cotton Club I, I was prepared for, for, for the bands that I would hear there, and they were traveling bands and, and that was a great movement. In fact, I--I've written a piece called 'What Ever Happened to the Big Bands?' [T.J. Anderson]. It's for trumpet, saxophone and trombone, and it's a tribute too. It's published in Berlin [Germany], but it's a tribute to that music, I mean.$$Did you have a favorite band?$$No, they were all different. Lunceford's band was a show band and Lunceford's band had great arrangements. Sy Oliver was the arranger of that band. And they could swing just about any piece, classical pieces, spirituals and everything. And it was a very interesting band. But the band for soloists was Duke Ellington, because he had Cootie Williams and the trombone player Brown, Lawrence Brown. Just, just a lot of outstanding, you know, players in--in his band. The alto saxophone player, Johnny Hodges was with him. And so that when I--when I thought, thought about soloists, although they were playing Duke Ellington tunes, the soloist really was the things I was fascinated by. In other words, that's improvisation. I just became in love with improvisation, and to this day I'm fascinated by improvisation.$$Okay. So your favorite--was Johnny Hodges one of your favorite?$$Oh Hodges, Ben Webster was in the band. So I mean there're a lot of people, there wasn't any one favorite. It was--I think that's, that's one of the things I try to avoid is having one favorite of anything. I think there's too much richness out there to settle in on one. And I think you can like two or three people for different reasons and all of them can be good. So I've learned, I learned at an early age not to settle in on one thing, you know, so.$Can you hum a little bit of it for us, I mean of a good part (laughter)?$$A good part?$$Just because this is audio, it's about music.$$(Sings musical notes) This is the overture, (sings musical notes). I mean it goes on like that yeah, I mean that's the overture. And then there's some marvelous arias, (singing), "Marching onward, marching onward, listening to that happy tune--." That's the--that's the last over--that's the last song. And, and the interesting thing about that is that Joplin [Scott Joplin] wrote dance steps in the score [of 'Treemonisha']. There're a lot of things Joplin did that nobody did. I mean people had done that before in French--in French opera they, they write dance steps in the score. That had been done before, but Joplin wrote drag--real slow drag, he wrote the dance steps, light right foot slides, left foot glides, and all of this, that's written in the score. Another thing that Joplin did, Joplin tried to capture the singing he heard in black churches and that was when he wrote--he wrote notes with stems, just stems only and no note--no note heads, in other words jus- just the stems of the notes and no note heads. And there are sections where they go, "Oh," you know, that type of singing. The cross between singing and speaking, and of course Schoenberg [Arnold Schoenberg] developed about the same time Sprechstimme, a cross between singing and speaking. So both of these men were thinking about the same kinds of problems to be solved in composition. I mean he was a genius, Joplin was a genius, no question about it. And the father of American opera (laughter), I'm back to that again. And I can say that wi- with, with confidence because I've talked it over with Edith Borroff who wrote the book 'The History of American Music--,' 'Music in America and Music in Europe' [sic. 'Music in Europe and the United States: A History']. It's a very famous history book on, on American music, mainly because most mus- music books up until that time don't have one line about Indian [Native American] music. I mean Americans, we, we dis- we discovered Indians when we got here. They taught us how to survive, yet we don't wanna acknowledge their music, the fact that they taught us how to live, they taught us how to plant corn, they taught us everything and we don't--we don't wanna acknowledge their existence. But she acknowledges that and she also acknowledges the black contribution to music too, which you don't see in most books.