Helen Hagan’s grave finally marked in overdue ceremony

dsc_4597A long overdue ceremony was held at New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery on Thursday, September 29, to honor Helen Eugenia Hagan, who died in 1964 and was buried alongside her parents, albeit without individual mention. A headstone was placed on Hagan’s grave as members of the local community and others who’ve been connected to Hagan’s legacy acknowledged her extraordinary life.

Elizabeth Foxwell, who organized a crowd-funding campaign to permanently mark Hagan’s resting place — a campaign to which the Yale School of Music contributed — said, “Journalist, professor, Yale alum, and future NAACP activist William Pickens wrote the following about Hagan in 1916: ‘I remember […] I settled back into an easy chair to listen when the little girl was led in by her mother and seated at the piano just to show me. She showed me and has since shown hundreds of thousands that genius […] will out.'” Foxwell, who edited the 2015 anthology In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I (Oconee Spirit Press), also quoted from a letter Hagan penned in 1932 to W.E.B. Du Bois describing the struggles she was experiencing.

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Helen Hagan is believed to have been the Yale School of Music’s first female African American student. She graduated from the School in 1912 and soon thereafter became the only African American performer to travel to France to entertain Black troops stationed there after World War I. Hagan was the first African American pianist to perform a recital at a New York concert venue. While at Yale, Hagan performed with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and composed and performed her Piano Concerto in C minor, which, sadly, is the only one of her compositions to have survived. MORE

Published September 30, 2016
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Convocation 2016 Celebrates “Transcendent Yale Legacy”

YSM Dean Robert Blocker | Photo by Harold Shapiro

YSM Dean Robert Blocker | Convocation 2016

In his Convocation address, titled Music: A Transcendent Yale Legacy, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker told incoming and returning students, faculty, staff, and guests that “transcendent qualities are born and nurtured by people. Yale University and the School of Music are a collection of voices, a community and society of mutual learners. We, along with our predecessors, came here to better prepare ourselves to repair the world.

“It may surprise some of you to know that when the Yale Corporation voted to establish a School of Music in 1894, they also approved a Bachelor of Music degree that was open to women and men,” Blocker said in his remarks during the September 8, 2016, ceremony. “Cynics might say that not offering a Bachelor of Arts in Music retained the exclusivity of Yale College as a male enclave, but I find it a lot more interesting and compelling that music was Yale’s very first commitment to diversity and inclusivity.”

Celebrating the “transcendent voices” that have shaped the School’s legacy, Blocker recognized Ellen and Carl Stoeckel, Helen Hagan, Elaine Toscanini, Aldo Parisot, and Willie Ruff, among others.

“These transcendent musical voices of Yale and their cultural leadership transform lives, enrich communities, and bring hope to a broken world,” Blocker said. “Yale’s sons and daughters entrusted some of humankind’s treasures to us so that the transcendent qualities of character and mind, of light and truth – Yale’s motto, lux et veritas – can live through each of us and can bring hope to our planet. That is our responsibility, and it is our joy.” MORE

Published September 12, 2016
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[ students & alumni ]

YSM contributes to grave-marking fundraiser for Helen Hagan

Helen-hagan-1Helen Eugenia Hagan was a concert pianist and composer who graduated from the Yale School of Music in 1912; she is believed to have been the School’s first African American student. She was the first black pianist to perform a solo recital at a New York venue, and, in 1919, became the only African American performer to travel to France to entertain black troops stationed there after World War I.

Yet, despite her accomplishments, Hagen is buried in an unmarked grave in New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery. Elizabeth Foxwell, editor of  In Their Own Words: American Women in World War I, (2015), was dismayed to learn of this, and decided to launch a crowdfunding effort to mark the grave. “Reading the reviews of her performances — these rave reviews — and then you find out she’s in this unmarked grave, I was just totally shocked,” Foxwell said.

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Published April 13, 2016
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