Open for Research: Rudolph Dunbar Papers

July 24, 2017

By Nancy Kuhl

The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters is pleased to welcome scholars and students to consult the Rudolph Dunbar Papers (JWJ MSS 174) which have recently been fully organized and described.

Rudolph Dunbar (1899-1988) was a Guyanese clarinetist, music conductor, photojournalist, editor and music teacher. Dunbar began his career as a clarinetist while a teenager in the British Guiana Militia band. In 1919, he attended the Institute of Musical Art (now the Julliard School) where he studied music composition, piano, and clarinet playing. After graduation, Dunbar continued his musical education in France, Germany, and Austria studing music composition with Paul Vidal, clarinet playing with Louis Cahuzac as well as conducting with Phillip Gaubert and Felix Weingartner. In 1931, Dunbar created the Rudolph Dunbar School of Clarinet Playing in London, England. In 1942, he became the first musician of African descent to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. During World War II, Dunbar was the London correspondent for the Associated Negro Press. A journalist throughout his life, he also documented Independence Day celebrations of several African and Caribbean countries from British colonial rule. Despite his successes, Dunbar was outspoken against the discrimination he faced as an orchestra conductor, stating that it was difficult for him to secure orchestra conductor positions due to his race. Dunbar continued his career as a musician and journalist until his death in London, England on June 10, 1988.

The Rudolph Dunbar Papers include professional correspondence from Coretta Scott King, Eslanda Robeson, and British member of parliament Robert Allan, whom he frequently expressed his grievances of the discrimination he faced during his career. Other papers include those from his work as a correspondent for the Associated Negro Press including press releases and Anti-African American propaganda that circulated in Germany during World War II. Photographs reflect Dunbar’s work as a journalist and include photographs of Independence Day celebrations of former British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, and photographs of people including Kwame Nkrumah, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip of Great Britain, and Jesse Owens. Other photographs document Dunbar’s music career as a conductor and music teacher.

A complete description of the collection is available online:


Photographed by Carl Van Vechten 1946 Sept 28

–Afua Ferdnance