The following is extracted from a manuscript very much in progress, The music of the Black composer, and is available for use of those contemplating participation in the Şowándé commemorations of 2004-2005.  The diacriticals needed for Yorùbá are not always accurate but are as close as is allowed by Microsoft Word. Significant assistance from Dr. Godwin Sadoh is acknowledged.   Corrections and additions will be welcomed and credited when the work is published.

Dominique-René de Lerma
Lawrence University
 Conservatory of Music
 Appleton WI 54912-0599








Şowándé, Fęlá, 1905-1987

Olufęlá Şowándé was born in Ợyó, where his father, Emmanuel, of Ègbá origin, was an Anglican minister on the faculty of St. Andrews College.  Music study was a requirement here of all students for the priesthood.  Şowándé thus was surrounded by music from his earliest years.  When his father, his first music teacher, was transferred to Lagos, Şowándé began his 20-year association, as requested by his father, with Thomas King Ẹkúndayợ Phillips (who had been the first Nigerian to study music in London), originally as a choir boy at Christ Church Cathedral and then as his student.  Like Phillips before him, he was enrolled at the Church Missionary Society Grammar School and later at Kings College, but he used every opportunity to attend the organ recitals of Phillips, thus becoming introduced to European music and particularly the organ works of Bach, Handel, and Rheinberger, as well as Coleridge-Taylor’s  Hiawatha’s wedding feast.  On his graduation from Kings College, he was an accomplished pianist and was engaged as deputy organist under Phillips at the cathedral.  Simultaneously, he taught in a mission school and worked as a civil servant for three years.

He first met jazz in the company of fellow Nigerians in 1932, listening to Duke Ellington on short-wave radio.  Added to this were broadcasts from France, the BBC, and from New York and Chicago, and recordings by Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, and Earl Hines.  This led to his organization of the Triumph Dance Club Orchestra, in which he played piano.  He also was a member of the jazz band, The Chocolate Dandies, that had been organized about 1927 in Lagos.

In 1935, he moved to London with the intent of studying civil engineering, but he arrived already experienced from his days in Lagos as a jazz musician.  African Americans were delighted by his ability to imitate the piano styles of jazz figures.  By music, he was able to pay for his education.  He organized a jazz septet, consisting largely of musicians from the Caribbean, and he was assumed to be a Black American.  He abandoned his plans for civil engineering and dedicated himself to music, attending the University of London and Trinity College of Music as an external candidate.  His work in Lagos with Philips provided him with a European musical perspective, and he intensified that by studying with George D. Cunningham, George Oldroyd, and Edmund Rubbra.  However he was influenced by these contacts, it was in 1935 that he began coping with nationalistic impulses, which were articulated in his articles from 1965, “The development of a national tradition of music” and “Language in African music.”  In essence he felt music had the obligation to communicate with his fellow citizens and this could be accomplished by reference to a Nigerian musical language.  He used the term “Ideation” to refer to an individual’s ability to respond to an existing musical thought.  This process of making traditional music classical has been often observed.  Nonetheless, the composition of a symphony to commemorate Nigeria’s freedom from colonialism in 1960 provoked substantial controversy, in large measure because, there not then being an orchestra in Nigeria that could play the work, he took it to the U.S. for performance.  Alternatives were offered that he have it performed by a dance orchestra or by a police or army band.

He had not neglected his interest in jazz or his curiosity about African American culture.  He took lessons in jazz piano with Jerry Moore and began performing, not just on piano, but on the Hammond organ, and he made friends with such visitors as Paul Robeson, Fats Waller, the Nicholas Brothers, Peg-Leg Bates, Valaida Snow, and Tim Moore (later to play the role of Kingfish on the Amos and Andy radio broadcasts).  He performed with J. Rosamond Johnson, choral conductor of Lew Leslie’s Black birds of 1936 (in which Şowándé performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in blue), and it was Johnson who introduced him to the music of R. Nathaniel Dett.  He joined Adelaide Hall as her cabaret pianist and recorded with her in the last years of the 1930s.  In 1940 he began a series of radio broadcasts, West African music and the possibilities of its development, which he exemplified with his own works.  Recordings of these broadcasts were aired in Nigeria in the 1960s. 

He joined the Royal Air Force during the war, but was released on the request of the Ministry of Information so that he could serve as music director for the colonial film unit.  This resulted in his writing music for films that were directed to African audiences.  Composed at this time was his personal “signature” tune, based on a sacred melody (Ợbáńgíjì) composed by Rev. Joshua Jesse Ransome-Kuti that served its needs and those of the BBC’s African programs from 1943 to the 1960s.

It was in 1943 that he earned the Fellowship diploma of the Royal College of Organists, as well as the Limas Prize for music theory, the Harding Prize for his organ playing, and the Read Prize for the overall excellence of his examinations, along with his B.M. degree from the University of London.  He was appointed organist and choir director of the West London Mission of the Methodist Church in 1945 (Kingsway Hall), which stimulated the creation of new works for organ. His Sunday recitals became very popular.  It was under these circumstances that J. H. Kwabena Nketia, then a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, first heard him.  They encountered each other again in 1966, when Şowándé was exploring new theories in ethnomusicology at Northwestern University, some of which he found controversial. 

            In 1953 he returned to Nigeria to head the Music Section of the Nigerian Broadcasting System, a position that provided little time for his work as composer.  In this post he produced weekly radio programs based on field research of Yorùbá folklore, mythology, and oral history, presented by tribal priests.  He was also named honorary organist at the Cathedral Church.

From 1962 until 1965 he was senior research fellow at the University of Ibadan, then becoming musicology professor at the university’s Institute of African Studies.  A government grant in 1966 resulted in a series of studies on Nigerian music.  Funding from the United States Department Leaders and Specialists Grant provided him with the opportunity in 1957 to present organ recitals in New York, Boston, and Chicago, and to lecture on his research.  The offerings in New York were sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.  He was a visiting scholar for the 1961 school year at Northwestern University’s anthropology department.  His writings during this period were unpublished for the most part, because his metaphysical orientation ran counter to prevailing philosophies in music.  At Princeton University, he supplemented his study of composition by working with Roger Sessions.

A grant from the Ford Foundation (1962-1965) permitted him to conduct additional research at the University of Ibadan on Yorùbá religion. 

He was professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Ibadan’s Institute of African Studies from 1965 to 1968, leaving that position to join the faculty of Howard University, where he remained to 1972.  From 1968 to 1971 he produced a series of recordings on various aspects of Nigerian history, language, literature, and music that was distributed by the Broadcasting Foundation of America, 48 of which were deposited with the foundation’s New York archives.  Other materials are held within the Dartmouth College Library.

            He became professor of Black studies at the University of Pittsburgh in 1972, later joining the faculty of the School of Education.  He was affectionately known here as “Papa Sowande.”

His last position was in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, which he held from 1976 until his retirement in 1982, accompanied by Eleanor, his wife.  His final days were spent in a nursing home in Ravenna, where he died of a stroke.  A memorial service was held at St. James Episcopal Church in New York on 3 May 1987, at which time Eugene Hancock complied with Şowándé ’s 1965 request by performing his Bury me eas’ or wes’.  Şowándé had received a permanent American visa in 1972 and had become a citizen in 1977.

He had been guest conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, and in 1964 conducted the New York Philharmonic in his Folk symphony.

            Ayo Bánkợle was one of his students.

            As possibly the first African, he was named a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists in 1943.  In honor of his 70th birthday, New York’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Church dedicated its 20th Annual Festival of Sacred Music to him.  He was granted an M.B.E. and D.M. degrees in honoris causa.   Queen Elizabeth II named him a Member of the British Empire in 1956, the same year he became a Member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  The music department at the University of Nigeria-Nsukka, was renamed the Sowande School of Music in his honor (1962).  In 1968 he was given the Traditional Chieftaincy Award, named the Bagbile of Lagos.  He was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Ife in 1972.  The Fęlá Şowándé Memorial Lecture and Concert Series was initiated in 1996 by Monsunmợla Omíbíyì at the University of Ibadan’s Institute of African Studies, with the keynote address delivered by J. H. Kwabena Nketia.


      LP: Marian Anderson, contralto.  LM-110.

      LP: William Warfield, baritone.  Columbia AAL-32..

      LP: Camilla Williams, soprano.  MGM E-156.

A garden for my love, for voice & piano.

A song of joy, for piano.

A Yorùbá lullaby, for piano.  Première [?]: BBC broadcast.

2 African dances, for orchestra.  London: ?.*

6 African melodies for Western instruments.

African suite, for string orchestra & harp (by 1939).[2]  London: Chappell, 1950.*  1. Joyful day [based on a melody of Ephraim Amu]; 2. Nostalgia [based on a melody of Ephraim Amu]; 3. Lullaby; 4. Onipe; 5. Akinla[3]Songs of Amu:  published in London by Sheldon Press in 1933, which is the source of the Amu tunes used here.

      LP: Decca (1951 or 1952?).

      LP: Harvey, conductor:  London LS-426.

--- for saxophone & orchestra.

      CD: Vancouver Orchestra; Mario Bernardi, conductor.  CBC CMCD 5135.

---- 1. Joyful day, allegro giocoso.*

      CD: Chicago Sinfonietta; Paul Freeman, conductor.  Cedille CDR 90000 055 (2000, African heritage symphonic series, vol. 1).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

      CD: Vancouver Orchestra; Mario Bernardi, conductor.  CBC Records SMCD 5135, 1994.

      LP: London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.  CBS Special Products P9-19424 (Black composers series).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

      LP: London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.  Columbia M-33433 (1975, Black composers series).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

---- 2. Nostalgia, andante.*

      CD: Chicago Sinfonietta; Paul Freeman, conductor.  Cedille CDR 90000 055 (2000, African heritage symphonic series, vol. 1).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

      LP:  London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.  CBS Special Products P9-19424 (Black composers series).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

      LP:  London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.  Columbia M-33433 (Black composers series, 1975).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

---- 4. Onipe.*

---- 5. Akinla, allegro non troppo.*

      CD: Chicago Sinfonietta; Paul Freeman, conductor.  Cedille CDR 90000 055 (2000, African heritage symphonic series, vol. 1).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

      LP: London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.  CBS Special Products P9-19424 (Black composers series).   Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

      LP:  London Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.  Columbia M-33433 (1975, Black composers series).  Liner notes: Dominique-René de Lerma.

African vespers, for orchestra.

Africana, for orchestra (1944).[4]  Première: 1944, London; BBC Symphony Orchestra, Fęlá Şowándé, conductor

      78rpm: BBC Symphony Orchestra; Fęlá Şowándé, conductor.

Alone with thought, for voice,\ & orchestra.

All I do.*

An African folk dance tune, for orchestra.

An evening procession on the coast, for orchestra.


Art songs, for tenor & string quartet.

At evening, for string orchestra.  London: Bosworth’s.*

At the factory.*

Because of you, for voice & piano.   London: Chappell.*

By the waters of Babylon, for SATB.

Children at play, for orchestra.

Chorale prelude on Yorùbá sacred melodies, for organ.  London, Novello.

Come now, Nigeria.  Ibadan: Nigerian Book Suppliers, 1968.

Come out and dance, for soprano & piano.  Text: E. Fielding Kirk.  Based on a Yorùbá folksong.

----- for SSA, percussion & piano.  London: Francis, Day, and Hunter, 1957.

Comfort, for SATB.

Curse of the demon cues.*

Enia yeper, for voice & piano.

Fantasy, organ, D major.  London: Chappell.

Festival march, for organ.  London: Chappell.*

Gloria, for organ.  New York: G. Ricordi, 1958.  Based on Ògo ni fún o Ol

Go down Moses, for organ.  London: Chappell, 1955.*

CD: Nancy Cooper, organ (Richard L. Bond Op. 27, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Missoula MT).  Pro Organo CD 7139 (c2000).

Goin' to set down.  New York: Franco Columbo.*  Duration: 3:49.

      LP: Charmain S. Hill, soprano; Virginia Union University Concert Choir; Odell Hobbs, conductor.  Eastern ERS-571.

Heav’n bells are ringin’, for SATB [?].

      78rpm [?]: Century 39764.

High life.*

Irínwó owó o, for SSA.

Ise olúwa, for orchestra.

Joshua fit de battle ob Jericho, for organ.  London: Chappell, 1955.

      CD: Lucius Weathersby, organ (Great Torrington Parish Church, Father Willis organ; 2003/IX/27).  International Society – African to American Music (2003).

Josiah, for SATB.

Jubilate, for organ.

K’a mó rókósó, for organ.   New York: Ricordi, 1966.  Dedication: Eugene Hancock.

Koronga, for orchestra.  London: Bosworth’s.*

Kyrie; Oyrie, for organ.  London: Chappell, 1955.* 

Laudamus te, for organ.

Leisure hour fragment, for voice & piano.

Let thy merciful ear, O Lord, for SATB.

Maypole dance.*

Mopa, for orchestra.

Mountain scene.*

My heart and I, for voice & piano.

My way’s cloudy, for SATB & piano.

Nigerian folk symphony (1959). [5]*  Commission: Nigerian government to commemorate Nigerian independence.  Première: 1964.  Première: 1960; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Charles Groves, conductor.[6] 

      AT: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Charles Groves, conductor (1960).

Nigerian themes, for organ.

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, for SSAATTBB, by Harry Burleigh, arr. by Fęlá Şowándé.   New York: Franco Colombo (#1896).*

Òbáńgíjì, for piano.  =.  For organ?  London: Chappell, 1955.* 

Oh render thanks, for SATB & organ.

Oh motherland , for orchestra (1960).  Commission: Nigerian government to commemorate Nigerian independence.

----- for SATB, brass ensemble, percussion & organ.  Commissioned by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information.  The national anthem of Nigeria.

Oro soro, for soprano & SATB.

Out of Zion, for SATB & organ.

Oyígìyiìi; Introduction, theme and variations on a Yorùbá folk theme, for organ.  New York: G. Ricordi, 1958.  19p.


Pastourelle, for organ.  London: Chappell, 1952.*

      CD: Lucius Weathersby, organ (Great Torrington Parish Church, Father Willis organ; 2003/IX/27).  International Society – African to American Music (2003).


Plainsong, for organ.  London: Chappell.*



Prayer; Oba a ba ke, for organ.  New York: Ricordi, 1958.*

2 Preludes on Yorùbá sacred melodies, for organLondon: Chappell, 1945.

----- 1. K’a múra.

----- 2. Jésù olugbàlà.

Reflection, for string orchestra.

Return of spring, for orchestra.*

Romantic lady.*

Sacred idioms of the Negro, for organ.  1. Bury me eas’ or wes’; 2. Laudamus te; 3. Vesper; 4. Supplication; 5. Via dolorosa;  Jubilate.

4 Sketches, for orchestra.  1. In an African village; 2. The new environment; 3. Echoes of the past; 4. The ceremonial.

Snow-capped Kilimanjaro, for orchestra.

3 Songs of contemplation, for tenor & string orchestra.  1. To a princess; 2. Loneliness; 3. Night in the desert.

St. Jude’s response, for SATB & organ.

Stan' still, Jordan, for SATBB, by Harry Burleigh, arr. by Fęlá Şowándé.  New York: Franco Colombo (#FCC 1893).

Steal away.*


Swing low, sweet chariot, for piano.

The emblem.*

The gramercy of sleep, for TTBB.  New York: G. Ricordi.

The Lord is risen, for SATB with optional percussion.

The Negro in sacred idiom, for organ. [7]   London: Chappell, 1955.  1. Joshua fit de battle of Jericho; 2. Kyrie; 3. Yorùbá lament; 4. Obángíji.

      LP: Fęlá Şowándé, organ.  London LL-533 (1952).

----- 1. Joshua fit de battle of Jericho.*

      CD: Hans Uwe Hielscher, organ (1863-1982 Walker/Saur/Oberlinger 4-116, Wiesbaden, Merktkirche). EL CD-016 (Spiritual and gospel songs).

----- 3. Yorùbá lament.*  Duration: 7:53.

CD: Lucius Weathersby, organ (Father Willis, 1864; St. Michael and All Angels Church, Great Torrington, UK).  Albany 440 (Spiritual fantasy).

----- 4. Obangiji.*  Duration: 3:48.

      CD: David Hurd, organ (1961 Holtkamp, Fisk University, Nashville).

---- for woodwind quintet.  Richmond VA: International Opus (WW5-9858).

The spinning song, for string orchestra.

The wedding day, for SSA, percussion & piano.

To a pupil, for tenor & string orchestra.
To arms.*

To daffodils, for voice & piano.

To the colors.*


Valse galante, for orchestra.  London: Bosworth’s.

Via dolorosa, for organ.

Wedding song, for SS (1957).  Text: E. Fielding Kirk.  Based on a Yorùbá folksong, Tún mi gbé.

Words, for TTBB.  New York: Ricordi.

3 Yorùbá songs, for piano.  1. Oyígíyigì; Exercise in thirds; 2. A Yorùbá lullaby [based on Taní bá mi lợm ọ wí]; 3. Ènìyàn yępęrę ló nma jé.

-----3. Ènìyàn yepere ló nma jé, for voice & piano (1954).


 “Honored composer” in Music; The AGO and RCCO magazine, v6 (1972/II) p14.

“New African music from Chappell” in Choir and organ guide, v9 (1956/IV) p23.

“Olufela Sowande, 1905-1987” in Inside (1987/IV/6).

“Olufela Sowande, 81, retired professor at KSU” in The beacon journal (1987/III/15).

“Olufela Sowande, taught of roots” in The plain dealer (1987/III/25).

“Sowande, Fela” in The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians, ed. by Stanley Sadie.  London: Macmillan, 1980, v17, p780.

Abdul, Raoul.  “Fela Sowande’s seventieth birthday” in Blacks in classical music.  New York: Dodd, Mead, 1977, p32-33.

Adégbìé, Adémợlá.  “The present state of development of African art music in Nigeria” in African art music in Nigeria, ed, by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p77-92. 

Agawu, V. Kofi.  “The impact of language on musical composition in Ghana; An introduction to the musical style of Ephraim Amu” in Ethnomusicology, v28n1 (1984) p37-73.

-----.  “Representing African music” in Critical inquiry, v18n2 (1992) p259.

Alaja-Browne, Afolabi.  “A history of intercultural art music in Nigeria” in Intercultural music, n29 (1995) p82.

Bátéye, Olúwaloóyè O.  “Än analysis of the 1st movement of the Nigerian folk symphony of Fęlá Şowándé ” in African art music in Nigeria, ed, by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p117-126.

-----.  Fęlá Şowándé; The life and works of an African composer.  Graduate paper (Ph.D.) University of Ibadan, 1992.

Black music research journal, 1981-1982, p145; 1987, p55; v10n1, p101

Black perspective in music, v3n1, p9, 123; v4n1, p92; v5n2, p243; v6n2, p175, 181; v8n2, p227; v9n2, p231; v10n1, p121; v12n1, p120; v15n2, p227

Brooks, Christopher A.  “Sowande, Fela” in International dictionary of Black composers, ed. by Samuel A. Floyd, Jr.  Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999, v2, p1052-1056.

Bull, Storm.  Index to biographies of contemporary composers, vol. 3.   Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1987.  xxiv, 854p.  ISBN 0-8108-1930-9. 

Carter, Madison H.  An annotated catalogue of composers of African ancestry.  New York: Vantage Press, 1986.

Cole, Bill. John Coltrane.  New York: 1976.

Ệkwúèmẹ, Laz.  “Composing contemporary African choral music; Problems and prospects” in African art music in Nigeria, ed. by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p16-57.

Edet, Edna M.  “An experiment in bi-musicality” in Music educators journal, v52n4 (1966) p144.

Fáşeùn, Fęmi.  “Public perception of music as a school subject in contemporary Nigerian schools” in African art music in Nigeria, ed. by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p83-92.

Greene, Frank.  Composers on record; An index to biographical information on 14,000 composers whose music has been recorded.  Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1985.

Handy, D. Antoinette.  Black music; Opinions and reviews.  Ettrick VA: BM&M, 1974, p73.

Hildreth, John Wesley.  Keyboard works of selected Black composers.  Graduate paper (Ph.D.) Northwestern University, 1978.

Horne, Aaron.  String music by Black American composers.  Westport: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Idolor, G. Emurobome.  “Formal education and the development of African identity in the new African art music” in African art music in Nigeria, ed, by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p135-149.

Irele, Abiola.  “Is African music possible?” in Transition position, v61 (1993) p56-71.

Laidman, Janet Loretta.  The use of Black spirituals in the organ music of contemporary Black composers as illustrated in the works of three composers.  Graduate paper (Ph.D.) Columbia University Teachers College, 1989.

Lerma, Dominique-René de.  “A concordance of music entries in five encyclopedias: Bakers, Ewen, Groves, MGG, and Rich” in Black music research journal 1981/1982, p127-150.  Reprinted in Black perspective in music, v11n2 (1983/fall) p190-209.

-----.  “Biographical notes on the composers” in Symposium of symphonic music by Black composers, Baltimore.  Minneapolis: AAMOA Press, 1973, p11-14.

-----.  Black music in our culture; Curricular ideas on the subjects, materials, and problems.  Kent: Kent State University Press, 1970, p179, 198, 202 (Sowanda)

Levinson, L. L.  “Fela Sowande of Nigeria at Carnegie; Music more Western than African” in Variety, n227 (1962/VI/06) p2.

Lo-Bámijókò, Joy.  “Art singing in Nigeria; The composers and the performers” in African art music in Nigeria, ed, by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p70-76.

Mokwunyei, Joe Ngozi.  “Relevance of Nigerian art music in Nigerian contemporary theatre” in African art music in Nigeria, ed, by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p127-134.

Nketia, Joseph Hanson Kwabena.  “Developing contemporary idioms out of traditional music” in Studia musicolgica adacemiæ scientarium hungaricæ, v24 (1982) p81-97.

-----.  “Fęlá Şowándé’s world of music; A memorial lecture” in African art music in Nigeria, ed. by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p1-15.

Ọláníyan, Olúyẹmí.  “A discourse of Yorùbá lyrics (otherwise known as native airs) as contemporary art music for Christian worship” in African art music in Nigeria, ed, by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p58-69.

Omíbíyì-Obidke, Mosúnmợlá A., ed. African art music in Nigeria; Fęlá Şowándé memorial.  Ibadan: Stirling-Horden, 2001.  xi, 176p. 

Omójọlà, Bợdé.  “Nigerian melody and European forms; A study of Sówandé’s organ works” in African art music in Nigeria, ed, by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p101-116.

-----.  “Style in modern Nigerian art music; The pioneering works of Fela Sowande” in Africa, v68n4 (1998) p455-483.

-----.  Nigerian art music.  Ibadan: Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique, 1995.

Phillips, Thomas King Ẹkundayợ.  Yorùbá music.  Johannesburg: African Music Society, 1953.

Roach, Hildred.  Black American music, past and present.  Miami: Krieger, 1985; Boston: Crescendo, 1973..

Sadoh, Godwin.  “A history of South Africa’s organ builders” in Organ encyclopedia (2004).

-----.  “A profile of Nigerian organist-composers” in The diapason, v94, n8-1125  (2003/VIII) p20-23.

-----“A profile of Nigerian organist-composers” in The organ, n82 n323 (2003/II-III) p18-23.

-----.  “Fela Sowande” in Organ encyclopedia (2004)..

-----.  The organ works of Fela Sowande; A Nigerian organist-composer.  Graduate paper (D.M.A.) Louisiana State University, 2004.

-----.  “A centennial epitome of the organs at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, Nigeria” in The organ, v81, n320 (2002/V) p27-30.

Slonimsky, Nicolas.  “Sowande, Fela” in Baker’s biographical dictionary of musicians.  6th ed.  New York: Schirmer Books, 1978, p1634-1635.

Southern, Eileen.  “Conversation with Fela Sowande, high priest of music” in Black perspective in music, v4n1 (1976/spring) p90-104.

-----.  “Fela Sowande obituary” in Black perspective in music, v15n2 (1987/fall) p227-228.

-----.  “Sowande, Fela” in Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians.  Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982, p354-355.  (The Greenwood encyclopedia of Black music).

Şowándé,  Fęlá.  “A West African school of music” in West African review, v25n196 (1944/I) p22-23.

-----.  “African music and Nigerian schools” in Ibadan, v16 (1963) p13-15.

-----.  “African music” in Africa, v14n6 (1944/IV) p340-342.  Reprinted in Empire, v39 (1948) p165-167.

----.  “Language in African music” in Music in Nigeria, v1n2 (1965) p4-36.

-----.  “Le role de la musique dans la société africaine traditionelle” in La musique africaine, réunion de Yaoundé (Cameroun) 23-27 janvier 1970, organisée par l’UNESCO, ed. by Richard Masse.  Paris: Revue Musicale, 1972, p57-68.

-----.  “Nigerian music and musicians, then and now” in Composer [London], v19 (1966/spring) p25-34.  Reprinted in Nigerian magazine, n94 (1967/IX) p253-261.

-----.  “The African musician in Nigeria” in The world of music, v9n3 (1967) p27-36.

-----.  “Tone languages of Nigeria” in Listen, v1 (1964/III-IV) p12.

-----.  Ifa.  Ibadan: Forward Press, 1964.  74p.

-----.  Nationalism and essays on relevant subjects.  Ibadan: Daily Sketch, 1968.

-----.  Orúko àmútợrunwá; Láti ọwợ Fęlá Şowándé  àti Fágbèmi Ájànàkú.  Ibadan: Oxford University Press, 1969.  v, 72p.

-----.  Six papers on aspects of Nigerian music.  New York: Fęlá Şowándé, 1967.

-----.  The Africanization of Black studies.  Kent: Kent State University, Institute for African American Affairs, 1975.

-----.  The mind of a nation; The Yorùbá child.  Ibadan: University of Ibadan, 1966.

Spradling, Mary Mace.  In black and white; Afro-Americans in print.  3rd ed.  Detroit: Gale Research, 1980.

Symphonium v3n1.

Úzòígwè, Joshua.  “Tonality versus atonality; The case for an African identity” in African art music in Nigeria, ed, by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p161-174.

Vann, Kimberly R.  Black music in Ebony; An annotated guide to the articles on music in Ebony magazine, 1945-1985.  Chicago: Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College. 1990 (CBMR Monographs, no. 2), p41.

Vidal, Túnji.  “Fęlá Şowándé; A nationalist and humanistic composer” in African art music in Nigeria, ed. by Mosúnmợlá A Omíbíyì-Obidike.  Ibadan: Stirling Horden, 2001, p93-100.


“Chief Fela Sowande’s philosophy and opinions”  

“Nketia, J. H. Kwaben””words=nketia&Submit=Submit&config=ppl.  (2003).  3p.  Consulted 2003/X/24.

ASCAP; ACE title search. … (2003).  2p.  Consulted 2003/XI/25.

Bauer, Kerstin. “Das Musikarchiv des Iwalewa-Hauses”

International Opus.  “Woodwind quintet music by African and African-American composers”

Okoli, Tunde.  “Colours of African music across cultures”  wysiwyg://74/http://www.thisfayonl…hive/20021014art01.html  3p.  Consulted 2003/VI/02.

Şowándé, Tunji.  “African churches; Nigeria”

Zick, William J.  “Composers of African descent; Music in the Western classical tradition by African, African Americans, and African Europeans”ñs4.html  27p.   (2003). Consulted 2003/IX/23.


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[1] Titles with an asterisk are controlled by Universal/MCA (ASCAP).  The contents of the Anderson, Warfield, and Williams recordings have not been determined.

[2] Brooks 1999 give the date of composition as being both 1930 and “late 1930s.”

[3] Vidal 2001 (p97) cites the second movement as Ompa, and  the fourth as The dance [based on Onídòdò Onímợyínmợyín].

[4] Brooks 1999 lists this as an opera.

[5] The first movement uses an Égbádò folksong, Èyin èdá e má ràròpin ò, the second uses Olele, the third Afẹfẹ yèyè, and the final movement uses Ó gbaya ọya. Themes of the first movement are notated in Bátéyẹ’s analysis, p125-126.  Levinson (1962) claimed the work was more European than African.  Brooks 1999 errs in citing this work as two different compositions, Folks symphony and Nigerian folk symphony

[6] Sadoh 2003 (p19 of  “A profile of Nigerian organist-composers”) indicates the première took place in 1962 by the New York Philharmonic, in Carnegie Hall.

[7] There is a possibility this suite was assembled from existing works for  this publication and recording.


Féla Sowandé (1905-1987)[1]
Contributed by Fred Onovwerosuoke
Founder & Artistic Director, St. Louis African Chorus,
634 N. Grand Blvd., Suite 1143, St. Louis MO 63103

 Born southern Nigeria May 1905, Fela Sowande’s musical vocation began early as a boy soprano at the Christ Church Cathedral, Lagos, Nigeria, and studied music as child with T.K.E. Phillips, the longtime organist and choirmaster. In 1956 Queen Elizabeth II honored him with the Member of the British Empire, MBE, for "distinguished services in the cause of music." Eileen Southern, the renowned African-American musicologist called him the High Priest of Music. And in 1972 the University of Ife, in Nigeria awarded him with the Honorary Doctor of Music. Sowande originally set out to be a civil engineer, but innate musical prowess eventually redirected his focus, earning a bachelor of music degree from the University of London.

Fela Sowande lived in London and worked as a jazz musician in the 1930s. While in England, Sowande was widely known as a dance pianist, band leader, and organist. He worked with the celebrated Adelaide Hall and played duets with ‘Fats Waller.’  And studied with some of the celebrated teachers of the time, among them Dr. George Oldroyd, Dr. Edmund Rubbra and Dr. G.D. Cunningham. In 1943 he obtained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists, with the highest honors, including the awards of the Limpees Prize for Theoretical work, the Harding Prize for proficiency at the organ, and the Read Prize for highest aggregate marks for the whole examination. Sowande also became a Fellow of Trinity College of Music.

In the 1940s he introduced a series of programs in African music at the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC. Many high points in his career include the BBC Symphony Orchestra premier of his tone poem Africana in 1944. Sponsored by the State Department, he came to the United States in 1957 to give organ concerts. He later became a permanent U.S. resident and has taught in many universities as professor of African and Afro-American music. He has also conducted many ma­jor orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic. Sowande's best known compositions include Africana, Nigerian Folk Symphony, and African Suite.  

Roanne Edwards writes in the Africana Encyclopedia that [Fela Sowande] was the first African composer to combine African traditional music with Western classical styles and forms - a development exemplified in his African Suite  for strings (1952) and Nigerian  Folk Symphony.


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[1] Culled from the book A Treasury of African Choral Music Vol. 1 by Fred Onovwerosuoke. Additional notes compiled from personal interviews with playwright Ola Rotimi, and from Ashenafi Kebede’s Roots of Black Music, and A.A. Agordoh’s Studies in African Music. Photograph courtesy of


Féla Sowandé (1905-1987)
(Nigerian Concert Organist, Composer and Academic)

- culled from

Contributed by Godwin Sadoh, Ethnomusicologist, organist & composer, 03 Sep 2003.

Fela Sowande was born at Lagos in 1905 into a musical family. His father, Emmanuel Sowande, was a minister of the Gospel and one of the pioneers of church music in Nigeria. Sowande received his first lessons in music from his father. He credits his first contact with Western music to his father, 'My father was a priest who taught at St Andrew's College, Oyo, the mission's teacher training institute. Music was all around, and I suppose some of it rubbed off on me.' This encounter later became a motivation for him to study European music in depth.

Another influence on his early musical training was Thomas Ekundayo Phillips. Under the tutelage of Phillips, as a chorister at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, in the 1920s and 1930s, Sowande was exposed to various European sacred music and indigenous church music. He received private lessons in organ playing from Phillips while singing in the Cathedral Choir. Indeed, Phillips' playing on the organ, the choir training and the organ lessons he received had a major impact on his aspiration of becoming an organist-composer. He regularly listened to Phillips' playing of Bach, Rheinberger, and others. Sowande sang in the Cathedral Church of Christ Choir throughout his childhood and received his early education at C.M.S. Grammar School and King's College in Lagos. Sowande taught briefly at a public school for about three years and later joined the government service after completing his education at King's College.


At the age of 27, Sowande decided to become a civil engineer and went to London to study in 1935. After six months, he changed his mind and decided to study music because he could not afford to pay the tuition for civil engineering. At this point, his only means of livelihood was playing jazz at London nightclubs. Sowande later enrolled as an external candidate at the University of London and received private lessons in organ playing with George Oldroyd and George Cunningham. Sowande became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists with credit in 1943-the highest British qualification for organ playing. He happens to be the first Nigerian and perhaps the first African to receive the prestigious British FRCO diploma. Sowande was awarded the Harding Prize for organ playing, the Limpus prize for theoretical work and the Read prize for the highest aggregate marks in the fellowship examination. He also obtained the degree of Bachelor of Music at the University of London and became a Fellow of the Trinity College of Music.

His interest in jazz led him to listen to such pianists as Art Tatum, Earl Hines, and Teddy Wilson, who greatly influenced his style of jazz playing. Sowande studied jazz piano with Jerry Moore. His reputation as an outstanding jazz performer spread throughout London. He frequently played jazz on the Hammond organ. He met and performed with African American visiting artists such as Fats Waller, J. Rosamond Johnson, Paul Robeson, and Adelaide Hall, with whom he became a recording artist. As her accompanist, and with his own jazz group for Decca, Sowande organized a jazz band and served as its leader. He recalls his first encounter with jazz. One day in 1932, when Fela Sowande was a 27 year old student in Nigeria, he and some friends sat around a short wave radio set and heard Duke Ellington playing from the United States. 'That kind of experience excites you,' said Mr. Sowande.' 'It pulls you away from your own roots.' Before long, he and his friends had formed the Triumph Dance Orchestra, in which Mr. Sowande played the piano.

Sowande became an authority in jazz orchestration and was frequently called on to lecture on the topic. He was featured as a guest artist and speaker on BBC World of Jazz in November 1952. He was the first organist in Britain to play jazz on the Hammond. Clare Deniz, one of the reputable black European jazz singer and pianist, sang in Sowande's choir for the 1954 television series Club Ebony. Val Wilmer writes about Sowande's relationship with Rita Cann, an accomplished pianist who led her own Latin-American band in London society circles in the 1940s. At Hall's Florida Club, Cann danced with pianist Fats Waller while resident bandleader Fela Sowande played organ. Sowande, a formidable Nigerian, gave her the confidence to sing with his Jubilee Singers.

Sowande also came in contact with several other African-American musical personalities in London. This includes the Nicholas Brothers, Peg-Leg Bates, Valaida Snow, and comedian Tim Moore, who later became famous for his portrayal of 'Kingfish' in the Amos and Andy radio series. Sowande performed with J. Rosamond Johnson, who conducted the choir for Lew Leslie's Black Birds of 1936 and who introduced him to the works of Nathaniel Dett. In the late 1930s, he accompanied the cabaret show of the African-American singer and dancer Adelaide Hall. He also recorded with Hall, who had a flourishing career in London and was recognized for her rendition of Duke Ellington's song 'Creole Love Call.'

Sowande had a rounded musical experience in England. He was a solo pianist in a performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in 1936, and was appointed Organist and Choir Director at the West London Mission of the Methodist Church from 1945 to 1952. It was during this period that he began composing for organ. The influence of his participation and exposure to church music during his formative years could be seen in the abundance of works written for organ. His organ compositions at this time included Kyrie, Obangiji, K'a Mura, Jesu Olugbala, Go Down Moses, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, and Yoruba Lament. Some of these pieces are based on borrowed themes from the Yoruba culture of Nigeria. Indigenous songs are employed in Sowande's music for three reasons: (1) As a symbol and mark of national identity; (2) to classify the works under the umbrella of modern Nigerian art music, and (3) to arouse the interest of Nigerian/African audiences in performing, studying and analyzing the music. Apart from rhythm, the indigenous songs are the most audible elements of Nigerian culture vivid to the audiences and performers. Hearing those songs enabled them to compartmentalize the works as Nigerian musical heritage.

During the Second World War, Sowande enlisted with the Royal Air Force, but was released at the request of the Ministry of Information to go to the Colonial Film Unit as a Musical Adviser of the British Ministry of Information in London. He was designated to provide background music for a series of educational films geared towards Africa. Sowande also presented several lectures titled West African Music and the Possibilities of its Development for the B.B.C. Africa Service. He collected a substantial amount of indigenous folksongs during this period. The songs were later to be employed in creating large works such as African Suite and the Folk Symphony. The Folk Symphony was commissioned by the Nigerian government in 1960 to mark the nation's independence. Although the work was not accepted, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Carnegie Hall eventually premiered it in 1962. During his days in London, Sowande experimented with musical synthesis of indigenous Nigeria and European idioms (intercultural music). When the Nigerian tribal Chief, Fela Sowande, moved to London, he brought with him a rich background from his culture which he juxtaposed with stimuli from his many British contacts. Over the next few years he was deeply absorbed in the musical life of London.


Sowande received two outstanding positions on his return to Nigeria in 1953. He was appointed as the Musical Director to the Nigerian Broadcasting Service in Lagos and as honorary Organist at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos. In this capacity he produced weekly radio programs based on materials gathered from field research. In these programs, he promoted aspects of Yoruba folklore, mythology, legends, and oral history. He used traditional priests in the presentation of materials. Between 1962 and 1965, Sowande was a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He was later appointed as Professor of Musicology from 1965 to 1968 at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. In March of 1966, the Federal government of Nigeria provided Sowande with funds for a program aimed at coordinating and placing on record the activities of Nigerian musicians and/or composers who had been neglected during the colonial administration and missionary era. The results of his research activities include the following:

1. 'Ifa' (Booklet)

2. 'Oruko A Mu T'Orun Wa' (Book)

3. 'The Yoruba Talking Drum' (Manuscript)

4. 'Children of the gods among the Yoruba' (Manuscript)

5. 'The Mind of a Nation: The Yoruba Child' (Book)

6. 'Aspects of Nigerian Music' (Book)

a. Nigerian Traditional Music

b. The Teaching of Music in Nigerian Schools

c. The Philosophy of Music

d. The Catholic Church and the Tone Languages of Nigeria

e. The Development of a National Tradition of Music

f. Nigerian Music and Musicians: Then and Now

7. 'The African Child in Nigeria'


In 1957, Sowande received a United States Department Leaders and Specialists Grant to travel to America, playing recitals of his original compositions for organ in New York, Boston and Chicago, and delivering lectures on African music based on his research materials. During this visit, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Carnegie Hall featuring his own works; among them was Nigerian Folk Symphony. Sowande presented lectures on Nigerian traditional music at colleges, universities and other educational institutions. The Rothschild Foundation sponsored his New York lectures.

From 1961 to1962 under a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, Sowande served as a visiting scholar in the Anthropology Department of Northwestern University. His desire to expand his musical training led him to study modern compositional techniques with Dr. Roger Sessions at Princeton University. Sowande's involvement with religion resulted in a Ford Foundation Grant (1962-1965) in research at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. With this endeavor, he advanced his study of Yoruba Traditional Lore with special reference to Yoruba traditional religion. Sowande also accepted guest conductor engagements in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, where he performed and recorded his original works. During this period, Sowande School of Music at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was named after him, in honor of his outstanding contributions to music and to his country.

For several years, Sowande collected traditional musical materials and placed them in repositories where they can be studied. From 1968 to 1971, Sowande produced a series of tapes and recordings. These included secular, traditional and contemporary Nigerian music, proverbs, poetry, and language, for distribution by the Broadcasting Foundation of America throughout the United States as educational material. He placed forty eight of his most valued tapes of folk and original music of Nigeria in the archives of the Broadcasting Foundation of America located in New York. Sowande continued to teach, joining the African Studies and Research Program as a Professor at Howard University, Washington, D.C. from 1968 to 1972. In 1972, he served as Professor of Black Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, and later in the Department of Music and Higher Education in the School of Education at the same University. Sowande applied for a permanent American visa in 1972 and was granted citizenship in 1977. He and his wife Eleanor moved to Randolph Township, Ohio, in 1976. He taught in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, from 1976 until his retirement in June 1982. On Friday March 13, 1987, Chief Fela Sowande died of a stroke at a nursing home in Ravenna, Ohio, where he had lived since the stroke first struck. In 1965, he expressed the desire that his setting of 'Bury Me Eas or Wes' be played at his funeral. Eugene Hancock, organist and personal friend, honored this request at the memorial service. Hancock also performed other works by Sowande; this service took place at Saint James Episcopal Church in New York City, on May 3, 1987.


Sowande's contributions to the development of Nigerian music, through research, teaching, broadcasting and composition, have been well acknowledged. Among his numerous awards are Member of the British Empire (MBE), from Queen Elizabeth II for distinguished services in the cause of music (1956); the Member of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (MFN) in 1956; the Traditional Chieftaincy award, the 'Bagbile of Lagos' in recognition of his research in Yoruba folklore (1968), and an honorary doctorate from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1972. In 1996, the first Fela Sowande Memorial Lecture and Concert was organized and hosted by Professor Mosunmola Omibiyi at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. The event featured performances of his works and lectures, including a keynote address by Professor Kwabena Nketia of the University of Ghana, Legon.


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Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians. London: Greenwood Press, 1982. S.v. 'Fela Sowande,' by Eileen Southern.