Conductor James DePreist Has Died At 76

James DePreist at the White House in 2005(Photo:
James DePreist at the White House in 2005(Photo:

The conductor James DePreist died today at 76.

He overcame two substantial barriers to have an enormous career. He was African-American and conducted from a wheelchair as a result of polio which he contracted in 1962.

DePreist had music directorships in Monaco, Oregon, and was dean emeritus of conducting at the Julliard School. There was not a major symphony orchestra in the United States not conducted by James DePreist. He was a regular at Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony.

The nephew of the great contralto Marian Anderson, DePreist conducted his aunt’s final performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1965. Any charge of nepotism fades in the face of a 40 year successful career.

Many conductors have a favorite area of music. DePreist excelled at the big works — Mahler and Shostakovich especially. Ginger Rogers may have danced backwards in high heels, but DePreist conducted from a wheelchair and never went out of fashion.