Howard Swanson (1907-1978)
"The only thing I live for is my music."
Swanson and his family left Atlanta when he was nine years-old and moved to Cleveland. In 1925 he graduated from Glenville High, but that same year his father died forcing him as the eldest of three children to join the workforce. He was employed with the U.S. Postal service for over ten years, but continued the musical instruction his mother had insisted upon for all of her children.
In 1930 he sought to continue his piano instruction by taking courses at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where his teachers encouraged him to take night work so that he could take a full load of music course during the day. This is where we find him in 1936, after deciding that it would be more time-effective to be a composer, that striving to become a professional pianist was impossible while holding down a job.
He would eventually study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger until the war forced him to return to the States and languish for several years until his first symphony (based on the Langston Hughes poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers) was performed at Carnegie Hall. He achieved fame in New York and was able to return to to Europe to continue his studies.
In virtually all of his compositions, Swanson worked within the conventional forms of classical music, but he was able to infuse them with a personal style grounded in African American traditions. - New Georgia Encyclopedia