Adolphus Hailstork

Acclaimed composer, pianist, and conductor Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork III, who has penned more than 250 works, was born in 1941 and grew up in Albany, New York.

Dr Hailstork studied violin, piano, organ, and voice and was in the Choir of Men and Boys at the Albany Cathedral of all Saints. In 1959, he graduated from Albany High School, where he began composing. Hailstork studied music theory and composition with the renowned opera composer Mark Fax at Howard University in Washington, DC, and received a Bachelor of Music degree in 1963. Upon graduating, he traveled to France, after which he studied piano and composition at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger. When he returned to the United States, he enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music, studying with Vittorio Giannini NS received a second Bachelor of Music degree in 1965 and Master of Music degree there in 1966. Continuing his studies in Music Composition at Michigan State University, and on the music faculty, Hailstork earned the Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1971.

His numerous works for chorus, solo voice, piano, organ, chamber ensemble, band, orchestra, and opera have been played across the country by major orchestras conducted by James de Priest, Paul Freeman, Daniel Barenboim, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel, and JoAnn Falletta, among

Notable early compositions include Celebration, recorded by the Detroit Symphony in 1976; Out of the Depths (1977), and American Guernica (1983), are two band works which won national competitions. In 1979, Hailstork wrote Epitaph for a Man Who Dreamed, a lament for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Chineke Orchestra, a London-based majority Black and Asian orchestra under the baton of the African American Hispanic conductor Kalena Bovell, premiered it in 2020. Consort Piece (1995) commissioned by the Norfolk (Va.) Chamber Ensemble, was awarded first prize by the University of Delaware Festival of Contemporary Music. His opera Joshua’s Boots was commissioned by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the Kansas City Lyric Opera and premiered simultaneously in 1999.

Notable commissions include Rise for Freedom, an opera about the Underground Railroad, premiered in the fall of 2007 by the Cincinnati Opera Company, Set me on a Rock (re: Hurricane Katrina), for chorus and orchestra, commissioned by the Houston Choral Society (2008), and the choral ballet, The Gift of the Magi, for treble chorus and orchestra, (2009). In the fall of 2011, Zora, We’re Calling You, a work for speaker and orchestra was premiered by the Orlando Symphony. I Speak of Peace commissioned by the Bismarck Symphony (Beverly Everett, conductor) in honor of (and featuring the words of) President John F. Kennedy was premiered in November of 2013.

Hailstork’s second and third symphonies were recorded by the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and released by Naxos in 2007. Another Naxos recording, An American Port of Call (Virginia Symphony Orchestra), was released in 2012 – An American Port of Call was recently performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Thomas Wilkins. His Fourth Symphony, “Survive,” was premiered in March 2023 at Lincoln Center by David Hayes and the Mannes Orchestra.

Hailstork’s newest works include The World Called (based on Rita Dove’s poem TESTIMONIAL), a work for soprano, chorus and orchestra commissioned by the Oratorio Society of Virginia (premiered in May 2018) and Still Holding On (February 2019) an orchestra work commissioned and premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His oratorio A Knee on the Neck (tribute to George Floyd) for chorus and orchestra, received its New York premiere by The New York Choral Society in June 2023.

Dr. Hailstork’s Fanfare on Amazing Grace was selected and performed by the United States Marine Band at the inauguration ceremony of U.S. President Joseph Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris in 2021.

A recipient of several awards and accolades, Hailstork received an Honorary Doctorate from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 2017, he was installed in Norfolk’s Legends of Music Walk of Fame with a granite medallion inset with a bronzed star embedded in the sidewalk on Granby Street in downtown Norfolk.

Preferring programmatic music, which draws from real-life experiences, people, and events, Hailstork aims to convey deeper meanings and subjects in his compositions. His choice to explore meaningful, and sometimes disturbing events in American history serves as a call for listeners to engage with and contribute to building a more thoughtful and culturally rich society.

Dr. Hailstork resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is Professor of Music and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.