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Philippa Schuyler Collection

A description of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 2 Oct 2008

Biographical History

Philippa Duke Schuyler (1931-1967) was an African-American pianist, composer, journalist and author. Her father George Schuyler was also a noted playwright and journalist.

Philippa Schuyler was born on August 2nd, 1931 to Josephine Cogdell Schuyler and George S. Schuyler. Josephine was a white Texan from a ranching and banking family and George Schuyler was a highly esteemed black journalist. Philippa, therefore, was of mixed race. Josephine was extraordinarily attentive to Philippa’s education and Philippa showed herself to be remarkably gifted. At two years old, Philippa was featured in New York newspapers for her exceptional spelling abilities. By the age of four, Philippa was a noted pianist playing public recitals and radio broadcasts, usually playing some of her own well-received compositions. At age eight, her IQ was tested to be 185. The media had branded her a child prodigy.

Her parents, particularly Josephine, eschewed terms like prodigy or genius for their daughter and instead attributed Philippa’s exceptional talents to a diet of raw food and a "careful education." Josephine was quoted by the New York Herald Tribune, in one of Philippa’s earliest appearances in the newspapers (August 3, 1934), as saying "she’s not a genius or a prodigy or anything like that. It’s just taking pains and keeping her well." Then, a few months later in the scrapbook, Josephine pasted a typed report of Philippa’s development in which she complained, "People insist on calling you a prodigy. I think it is because that is easier to understand. " She also pasted a clipping about child prodigies into the scrapbook with the accompanying caption: "Discouraging forecasts about child prodigies, you are included, although I have tried to make it clear to everyone that I do not consider you a prodigy- but the public loves magic and the newspapers must cater to the limitations of their readers."

The family lived in Harlem, New York. George spent most of Philippa's childhood traveling as a correspondent journalist and lecturer. As a child, Philippa had no contact with her mother’s family (with the exception of one of Josephine's sisters who visited Harlem once when Philippa was three years old). George’s family, particularly his sister Louise, visited regularly and were close to Philippa. Other guests of the Schuyler household included prominent African-American figures and other intellectuals. Philippa had extremely limited contact with other young children.

Philippa spent very few years in schools but instead had private tutors visit the apartment in Harlem. These tutors, in addition to a variety of music instructors, were affordable for the Schuylers only with Philippa’s performance income. Having Philippa perform so many concerts was a point of dispute between Josephine and several of Philippa’s piano teachers. Those teachers argued that despite Philippa’s diligent and rigorous practicing schedule, the steady stream of concerts negatively affected her musical education by inflating her confidence and interrupting her study of technique. Even so, the critics lauded her performances consistently, praising her obvious propensity for music.

By the time she had proven herself to be more than just a child prodigy, Philippa faced the injustice of racism when trying to book performances as a talented young pianist. Throughout the 1950s, she booked tours throughout South America and Europe with strong audience turnouts and excellent reviews, but was consistently unable to find sponsorship from white organizations in the United States.

In her thirties, Philippa changed careers from exclusively being a concert pianist to also working as a journalist like her father. She worked for the Manchester Union Leader of New Hampshire and was a correspondent to Vietnam when, in 1967, she died in a helicopter crash near Da Nang. She was helping escort young Vietnamese orphans to safety when the U.S. Army helicopter low-leveled into the ocean at a very high speed. Philippa, the young boy who had been sitting on her lap, and twenty year old Pfc. Michael Elmy drowned.

After Philippa’s sudden death, Josephine wrote a series of memorial poetry dedicated to her beloved daughter. Josephine took her own life in 1969. George Schuyler died in 1977.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Philippa Schuyler Collection contains correspondence, clippings, concert programs, printed material, scrapbooks, and writings (including typescripts of articles, novels, and plays as well as musical compositions).

Clippings refer to the articles that mention or feature Philippa. Most of the newspaper clippings from the collection had been pasted inside scrapbooks but some, especially from 1954 (when Philippa toured the southern United States and also played in Alaska), remained loose. When necessary, deteriorated original clippings have been replaced with photocopies. Frequently, the Schuylers kept the entirety of any magazine which featured Philippa. Those magazines have been foldered separately from the loose clippings.

Correspondence includes letters addressed to either Philippa or her mother, who represented Philippa as a manager. It also includes birthday cards, telegrams, and postcards. These have been arranged by date. More of this kind of material can be found pasted within the scrapbooks by Josephine.

Josephine Schuyler material includes the documents following her suicide in 1969. One of these is a photocopy of her suicide note, in which she wrote "I am killing myself rather than go to a New York hospital which today are crowded, dirty, with incompetent nurses, indifferent mercenary doctors [and] attendants from a Georgia chain gang." She also dictated that "the cats must go to the ASPCA with provision they must be put to sleep" and added a post script to George that he "had better marry Carolyn." This folder also includes the cremation documents and a copy of the death certificate. Additionally, there are invitations and programs to the memorial held for Josephine at the Gallery of Modern Art. Besides the material surrounding her death, there is a folder for Josephine's writings and a scrapbook of newspaper clippings she compiled while Philippa was very young. The clippings in this scrapbook all concern health, nutrition, child rearing, or gifted children.

Programs from Philippa’s concert performances have been arranged by date, reflecting her tour schedule and repertoire. The years between 1953 and 1959 were bound by the Schuylers into two volumes.

The bulk of the collection is comprised of scrapbooks assembled by Josephine. Scrapbooks include the dates from 1931 to 1937, 1939 to 1946, 1953 to 1954 and 1957 to 1959. These scrapbooks include photographs, newspaper clippings, and correspondence. Additionally, Josephine wrote profusely around the pasted material, writing notes to Philippa or generally giving context to the memorabilia. Philippa addressed her parents as "Jodie" (or "Jody") and "George," and frequently Josephine wrote in the third person, referring to "Jodie" in the scrapbooks. The scrapbooks were not shown to Philippa until shortly after her thirteenth birthday.

Writings are divided by format. Philippa wrote many articles, beginning in 1945 with an article about girls in Mexico called "Friends Across the Border" for Calling All Girls. Besides articles, Philippa expanded her writing career to include books, the first of which was My Adventures in Black and White, published in 1961 and autobiographical. African affairs obviously interested her; she wrote a play called Congo! besides an investigative book called Who Killed the Congo? and a fiction book, Love, Blood and Death: A novel about Kenya.

The collection also has some of Philippa’s published music and manuscripts as well as a few of her notes about other pieces of music. A full score of Philippa's first full orchestrated work, Manhattan Nocturne, is included. It was written when she was only thirteen and debuted at the New York Philharmonic in April of 1945. A Mozambique composer, A. Gonçalves da Fonseea, dedicated his 1962 Rapsodia Portuguesa para Piano e Orquestra to Philippa and the original full score and parts are included in the collection.

Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is arranged alphabetically by subject and then by date.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

See also the papers of Ms. Schuyler's father, George S. Schuyler . For related material by Ms. Schuyler in our Rare Books holdings, please refer to the Classic Catalog. Copies of Kathryn M. Talalay's biography, Composition in Black and White: The life of Philippa Schuyler (1995) is available in the circulating collection on the 4th floor of Bird Library and in Rare Books.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library also has a large collection of Philippa Schuyler material.

Subject Headings


Schuyler, Philippa.


African American authors.
African American journalists.
Pianists -- United States.
Women authors.
Women journalists.
Women pianists.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Programs (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Philippa Schuyler Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Table of Contents



Josephine Schuyler material