In the early 1930s, African American conductor Dean Dixon (1915–1976) found that his pursuit of conducting engagements was stifled because of racial bias. As a result, he formed his own orchestra and choral society in 1931. In 1940, three conductors: African Americans Everett Lee and Dean Dixon, and Jewish American Benjamin Steinberg "...attempted to circumvent the institutionalised racism in American classical music by forming an orchestra of black musicians. But the project failed for financial reasons..." Steinberg established "...an orchestra of 36 black and 52 white musicians, when he formed the Symphony of the New World in 1964." It was the first fully racially integrated orchestra in the US, and held its premiere concert at Carnegie Hall on May, 6, 1965.
In 1945, Everett Lee was the "first African American to conduct a major Broadway production." Leonard Bernstein asked Lee to conduct On the Town, which marked the "...first time a black conductor led an all-white production." In 1953, Lee was the "...first black musician to conduct a white symphony orchestra in the south of the States...in Louisville, Kentucky."  In 1955, Lee was the "...first musician of colour to conduct a major opera company in the US with a performance of La Traviata at the New York City Opera." In 1955 William Grant Still conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South of the US. Henry Lewis (1932–1996) was the first African-American to lead a major symphony orchestra. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1972. Lewis found it hard to "...take on the role of an authoritarian conductor, because such a role was unacceptable for a black man" at this time.
In the early 1950s, impresario Arthur Judson, head of Columbia Artists Management told Everett Lee that despite Lee's excellent reviews for conducting, a black conductor could not conduct a white orchestra in the US. Judson stated that black instrumentalists could play solo concertos with white orchestras, dance in white productions and sing in white productions, but leading a white orchestra was not feasible. Isaiah Jackson (born 1945) was the first black principal conductor of The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, in 1986, and became its music director 1987–90.
According to a 2004 article in the Guardian, "black conductors are rare in the classical music world and even in symphony orchestras it is unusual to see more than one or two black musicians." Canadian-born black conductor Kwamé Ryan, who studied music at Cambridge University and in Germany, made his professional conducting debut in 2004. Ryan says the "...message given to young, black people, particularly in North America, was... that you can be a star athlete; you can be a pop star...[but the] possibility for black children [to become a conductor] is not encouraged in schools or in the media." Ryan states that young blacks have a lack of "...exposure [to black conductor role models] and it is a deficit that is passed on from generation to generation." Ryan said he has "...no optimism for the future."
Historically, the vast majority of classical music conductors have been Caucasian. However, there are a small number of notable conductors who are of African, Caribbean or African-American ancestry:
Charles-Richard Lambert (died in 1862) was a black American musician, conductor and music educator. He and his family were noted for talent in music and gained international acclaim. He worked as a music teacher and was a conductor for the Philharmonic Society, the first non-theatrical orchestra in New Orleans. One of his notable students was Edmond Dédé.
William Grant Still (1895–1978) was one of the first African Americans to conduct a major American symphony orchestra in the Deep South.
William Grant Still (1895–1978) was one of the first African Americans to conduct a major American symphony orchestra in the Deep South, the first to have a symphony (his first symphony) performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. As a classical composer, he wrote more than 150 compositions. After finishing college, he won a scholarship to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Between 1919 and 1921, he worked as an arranger for W. C. Handy's band. In the 1930s, he arranged music for many films. In 1955 he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South.
Everett Lee (born in 1913) "was [a]...violinist who led the orchestra in the original Broadway production of Carmen Jones and played the oboe on stage in the country club scene." In 1945, he was the "first African American to conduct a major Broadway production." Leonard Bernstein asked Lee to conduct On the Town, which marked the "...first time a black conductor led an all-white production." In 1946, Lee won a "Koussevitzky Music Foundation Award to conduct at Tanglewood." In 1952, he was "appointed director of the opera department at Columbia University...and was also awarded a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to travel to Europe. In 1953, Lee was the "first black musician to conduct a white symphony orchestra in the south of the States...in Louisville, Kentucky." In 1955, he was the "first musician of colour to conduct a major opera company in the US with a performance of La Traviata at the New York City Opera." He was appointed chief conductor of the Norrköping Symphony in Sweden in 1962. In 1976, he conducted the New York Philharmonic for the first time, and he performed a piece by African American composer "David Baker to mark Martin Luther King's birthday." In 1979, he became music director of the Bogotá Philharmonic Orchestra in Colombia.
Calvin E. Simmons (1950 –1982) was an American symphony orchestra conductor. He was one of the early African-American conductors of a major orchestra. By the age of 11, he was conducting the San Francisco Boys Chorus. After working as assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, Simmons became musical director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra at age 28; he led the orchestra for four years. He was the first African-American to be named conductor of a major U.S. symphony orchestra and a frequent guest conductor with some of the nation's major opera companies and orchestras (e.g., the Philadelphia Orchestra and others). In addition, he was the Music Director at the Ojai Music Festival in 1978. He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera conducting Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel.
John McLaughlin Williams is the first African-American win a Grammy Award for orchestral conducting. He came to conducting after a career as a violinist that saw him as a member of the Houston Symphony, Concertmaster of the Virginia Symphony, and a freelance concertmaster, soloist, and violinist who performed regularly with the Boston Symphony and as Assistant Concertmaster of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. He has conducted many orchestras in America, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, and is particularly known for his recording activity. Williams made many premiere recordings of American symphonic repertoire for the Naxos label's American Classics Series. He has had felicitous collaborations with such notable artists as Eliesha Nelson, Elmar Oliveira, Brian McKnight and The Winans. For Nelson's recording of TheComplete Viola Works of Quincy Porter, Williams achieved the unique distinction of performing as conductor, violinist, pianist, and harpsichordist, and that recording subsequently received two Grammy nominations.
Jazz and popular music
In jazz and popular music, the leader of an ensemble may also be called a bandleader.
Ilya Musin: The Technique of Conducting (Техника дирижирования) (Moscow: Muzyka Publishing House, 1967).
Ennio Nicotra: Introduction to the Orchestral Conducting Technique in Accordance with the Orchestral Conducting School of Ilya Musin, book and DVD in English, German, Italian, Spanish (Milan: Edizioni Curci, 2007).