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Maestro Everett Lee

Honorary Doctorate of Music

Born in Wheeling, West Virginia, Maestro Everett Lee started playing the violin as a small child. After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Music and moving to New York City, he had the opportunity to substitute-conduct for the musical “Carmen Jones.” He was hooked, and subsequently chose conducting as his profession.

Lee was the was the first African American to conduct a major Broadway production, “On the Town,” with an integrated cast and all-white pit orchestra in 1945. He was awarded a Koussevitzky Music Foundation Award to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood 1946, and the next year founded his own orchestra, The Cosmopolitan Little Symphony. In 1952, Lee was appointed director of the opera department at Columbia University Music School. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship the same year. 

Lee was invited to conduct the Louisville Symphony in 1953, making him the first African American to lead an orchestra in the U.S. South. He has since conducted the philharmonic orchestras of St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Cordoba, Bogotá and New York, as well as the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, New Jersey, Hamburg, Bergen and Barcelona. He has also conducted for opera companies in England, France, Sweden, Germany, and Columbia, as well as in the U.S.

Lee conducted his last symphony concert in 2005 at the Louisville Orchestra, the same orchestra that started his career in 1953. Now 102, he is retired and living in Malmö, Sweden.