The Helen E. Hagan Fund for Underrepresented Musicians

This fund honors the exceptional composer, pianist, and New Haven resident Helen Eugenia Hagan, who premiered her Piano Concerto with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra in 1912. As the composer and piano soloist for this historic performance, Helen is likely the first Black musician to have played with the NHSO.

Your investment will help us elevate Helen’s legacy, further the careers of emerging musicians of color following her footsteps, and inspire future generations of young artists.

The Helen E. Hagan Fund will permanently endow a Fellowship for emerging orchestra professionals to perform with the NHSO, receive vital career development training, and present workshops for children in New Haven Public Schools.

 

Helen E. Hagan (1891-1964)

1891

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.

1901

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

1912

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.

1914

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.

1919

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.

1921

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

1931

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

1935

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.

1964

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.

If you need personal assistance with a gift please call (203) 865-0831 ext. 16.

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