The Helen E. Hagan Project

Exceptional composer, pianist, and New Haven resident Helen Eugenia Hagan premiered her stirring Piano Concerto with your Symphony in 1912. In that same year, she became the first Black woman to graduate from Yale when she received a degree from the Yale School of Music. We celebrate Helen’s legacy by supporting the blossoming careers of underrepresented musicians, conductors, arts administrators, and board leaders through the Harmony Fellowship program. 

Your investment will help us elevate Helen’s legacy, further the careers of promising artists and arts leaders of color following in her footsteps, and inspire future generations.

Support the Harmony Fellowship for Underrepresented Arts Administrators 

Administrative Harmony Fellows work directly with the NHSO’s administrative team. These Fellowships help promising arts leaders build the tools and skills required to advance their careers in the arts. Fellowships are tailored to the needs of each Fellow to help them achieve their professional goals.

To see some of our Fellows’ incredible work, click HERE to explore an interactive educational tool created by former Administrative Fellow, Jasmine Bailey.

If you need personal assistance with a gift please call (203) 865-0831 ext. 118.

Early Successes for The Helen E. Hagan Project!

We’re excited to announce with the support of NHSO’s Board and donors like you, two of our Harmony Fellowships have been fully funded. In our 2021-2022 season, income from the Helen E. Hagan Fund for Underrepresented Musicians paid in full for a Fellowship awarded to cellist Axel Rojas Vallejos. This Fellowship provides opportunities for emerging orchestra professionals to perform with the NHSO, receive vital career development training, and present workshops for children in New Haven Public Schools. In June of 2023, contributions were secured to fully endow the Fellowship for Underrepresented Conductors. Claire Lewis has been awarded this Fellowship for 2024 – 2026.

In Fall of 2023, NHSO announced a generous matching challenge of $50,000 from Rita Landino to launch a campaign to fund the Fellowship for Underrepresented Arts Administrators. You can participate in meeting this match by contributing here.

Helen E. Hagan (1891-1964)


Helen Eugenia Hagan is born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Raised in New Haven, she is educated in the New Haven Public Schools. Helen’s first piano teacher is her mother, Mary Estella Neal Hagan.


Serves as the organist at Dixwell Avenue Congregational United Church of Christ, New Haven (a 9 year-old prodigy).


Performs as a soloist on her own Piano Concerto in C Minor on May 23, 1912 with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra conducted by Horatio Parker at Woolsey Hall. Hagan becomes the first known Black woman to play with the Symphony and to earn a degree from Yale University.


Graduates from Schola Cantorum following two years of study with Vincent d’Indy supported by Yale’s Samuel Simons Sanford scholarship. Returns to the U.S. to begin a successful career as a concert pianist, paving the way for other women and performers of color as she achieves numerous firsts as a black woman.


General John Pershing calls on Hagan to serve her country by entertaining Black troops in France following the Armistice that suspended combat operations of World War One. One of the only Black artists sent to France, she is dubbed “the Darling of the Doughboys.” She returns to the U.S. and continues her concert career a year later.


Earns the distinction of being the first Black musician to perform a solo recital at Aeolian hall in New York City.


Having run a successful private music studio for many years, Hagan becomes the first Black woman admitted to the Morristown Chamber of Commerce.


Establishes and operates music studio in Harlem, New York City.

1940s – 50s

Continues performing late in life. Works as a choir director and organist in New York City.


Dies in New York City and is buried beside her parents in New Haven, CT’s Evergreen Cemetery. Unmarked until 2016, a new gravestone dedicated by then Mayor Toni Harp reads: Helen Eugenia Hagan, 1891 – 1964, Composer – Pianist – Teacher.

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