Clarence Cameron White
Concert Violinist and Composer
By: KaSandra Stone
Clarence Cameron White was born in Clarksville on August 10, 1880 to James, W. White, a doctor and school principal, and Jennie Scott White, a violinist. His father died when White was only two years old, and White’s mother relocated her two sons to Oberlin, Ohio, where she had studied music. His grandfather gave him his first violin when he was six years old.
In 1890, White’s mother remarried, and they moved as a family to Washington D.C., where the music scene was rich and active among black communities. There, White met Will Marion Cook, who offered to give him violin lessons in the summer of 1892. White marked the lessons during that summer as the time he set his mind on being a violinist. He was only 12 years old.
White continued to receive private lessons in 1894 with Joseph Douglass, another notable black violinist and the grandson of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. From 1896-1901, White attended Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where his mother studied music. He studied under Frederick Doolittle, who taught Cook (the violinist who inspired White to pursue the instrument seriously). Unfortunately, White left before graduating to accept a teaching position in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The position fell through after only one month, and White won a violin scholarship shortly after to the Hartford School of Music where he was a protégé of Emma Azalia Hackley, who raised money for a scholarship so that White could study in Europe, where he had studied in first London and then Paris.
In the professional world, White was as dedicated and active as in the academic. He wrote articles on violin pedagogy and history for The Negro Music Journal. From 1903-1907 White served as the head of the string department of the Washington Conservatory of Music, and during that time he married pianist Beatrice Warrick, with whom he had two sons: Clarence Jr. and William. White composed many wonderful works, played the violin with dedication and passion, met many notable musicians, and moved all over the United States in pursuit of music. His work throughout his life undoubtedly contributed to shaping a new black cultural identity and has impacted the classical repertoire to this day. All his life, White actively performed, taught, and composed. He lived for the music, and it never let him down.