Meet The First Black Symphony Orchestra Conductor

Henry Lewis, first Black symphony orchestra conductor

In 1968, Henry Lewis broke racial barriers by becoming the first director of a leading American symphony orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony. In 1972, he also became the first Black man to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
Lewis got his start early. At the age of 16, he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra as a double bass player. He later joined the military, but after his service he returned to the orchestra as assistant director to the infamous Zubin Mehta. In 1960, Lewis himself debuted as director.

Later, he founded the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and from that point forward, he began to be invited to conduct the best orchestras in the United States.

His history-making role as conductor and musical director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in Newark was not for a short period; He continued in this role from 1968 until 1976. Even more, he has been credited with converting an orchestra that critics once described as "a group of musicians without vocation" into a nationally recognized orchestra.

Later in life, he worked as a guest conductor in other various orchestras and opera companies around the United States and througout Europe.

Sadly, Henry Lewis died on January 26, 1996 in Manhattan NYC due to heart disease.