African American History Forum
Philippa Duke Schuyler 1931-1967
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Philippa Duke Schuyler
One of the most unusual and perhaps most tragic figures in American cultural history, Philippa Schuyler gained national acclaim as a child prodigy on the piano. Her picture graced the covers of weekly news magazines, and she was hailed as a young American Mozart. Schuyler's life during adulthood, however, was a difficult one. She struggled with racial discrimination and with issues related to her mixed-race background, traveling the world in an attempt to find not only musical success but also an identity and a place in the world.
She turned to writing in the early 1960s, visiting war zones as a newspaper correspondent, and she was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1967.
After her death she was mostly forgotten for several decades, but her life story was told in a 1995 biography, and in 2004 American R&B vocalist Alicia Keys, a classically trained pianist of mixed-race background herself, announced plans to star in a film about Schuyler's life.
Philippa Duke Schuyler was born on August 2, 1931, in New York and brought up in Harlem at the height of the area's cultural flowering. The complexities of her life began with her background, for she had two singular parents. Her father George Schuyler was a journalist who wrote for one of the leading black newspapers of the day, the Pittsburgh Courier, and he was well acquainted with numerous writers in both black and white journalistic circles. He was not a civil rights crusader like many of his Harlem contemporaries, but rather a conservative satirist who rejected the idea of a distinctive black culture and later in life joined the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society. Philippa Schuyler's mother, Josephine Cogdell Schuyler, was a white Southern belle from a Texas ranch who had married George Schuyler after coming to New York to escape a wealthy family of unreconstructed racists. They all refused to attend concerts Philippa Schuyler gave in Texas at the height of her fame.
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