On 30 December 1899 Coleridge-Taylor married Jessie Sarah Fleetwood
Walmisley (1869-1962), who had been a fellow student at the RCM.
They had a son, Hiawatha (1900-1980), and a daughter, Gwendolyn
(later Avril, 1903-1998), who were both to have musical careers.
It would not have been surprising if Coleridge-Taylor's private
and domestic life had suffered under the pressure of work, but there
is plenty of evidence about the value he placed on his family life.
The composer Havergal Brian bumped into the couple in Hanley and
wrote about them as "...strikingly winsome, and with Hiawatha in
mind, I pictured them as journeying to the wedding feast". According
to Havergal Brian's account, the man himself seemed to be self-confident
and at ease in his environment: "Coleridge-Taylor spoke in short,
swift sentences, linked to many pleasantries. When he mounted
the platform, he was confronted with seventy players of the Hallé
orchestra and a chorus of eighty only. At the first entry of the
chorus, he stopped suddenly and, addressing the orchestra, said
rather dryly 'Gentlemen, half marks throughout!’".
But Coleridge-Taylor's success and fame did not exempt him from
racial harassment. Most painful was the fact that his wife Jessie
was also a target of abuse. His daughter records his response to
the groups of local youths who would repeatedly shower him with
insulting comments about the colour of his skin: “When he
saw them approaching along the street he held my hand more tightly,
gripping it until it almost hurt.”
Guest-curated for the British Library by Mike Phillips
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