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Women Composers: Duke Connections

This research guide suggests resources that may be useful in researching the lives and works of women classical composers.

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805 - 1847)

Fanny Hensel, older sister of Felix Mendelssohn, was a talented pianist and composer in her own right.  However, due to her gender and her family's social position, she was not allowed to publish her compositions under her own name.  Several of her works were published under her brother's name, and her music was largely unplayed until its re-discovery in the late 20th century.

Published Works by Women Composers in the Duke Collections

Several publishing companies have dedicated themselves to publishing works by women composers.  Duke's collections include works by women composers published by Hildegard Music, Arsis Press, and Furore.

Mary Lou Williams (1910 - 1981)

Mary Lou Williams was a jazz pianist, arranger, and composer who worked with Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker, among others.  She served as Duke University's Artist in Residence from 1977 until 1981, and during her tenure, taught courses on the History of Jazz and directed the Duke Jazz Ensemble.  In 1983, Duke established the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture in her memory.

Linda Dahl published the first full-length biography of Mary Lou Williams in 1999, and later donated her research materials for that biography to the Duke University Libraries.  Mary Lou Williams' papers and other archival material are house at Rutgers University's Institute of Jazz Studies. Descriptions of the archives' contents are accessible online.