first I want to say that I'm just trying to find some questions to pay attention to Doc Shirley. Yesterday we went to see the movie "THE GREEN BOOK" and from the first piece he played I realized what I have missed as I didn't know anything of this artist.

what I mean ist e.g. this piece!

Is this not more than an arrangement or a performance of a song? I mean: it's a composition of his own:


2 Answers 2


It's worth noting that the premise of the original question --that Shirley did not write down any music, and wasn't recognized as a composer --is incorrect:

Don Walbridge Shirley was born January 29, l927 in Kingston, Jamaica... At the age of nine he was invited to study theory with Mittolovski at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music, and he later studied with famous organist Conrad Bernier and studied advanced composition with both Bernier and Dr.Thaddeus Jones at Catholic University of America in Washington D. C.

...In l946 his first major composition was performed by the London Philharmonic orchestra.

...He has written symphonies performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, and has composed four organ symphonies, numerous pieces for piano, two string quartets, and a piano concerto. He played as soloist with the orchestra at Milan's La Scala opera house in a program dedicated to Gershwin's music. Only two other pianists have performed there as soloists--Rubinstein and Richter.


With all that said, there are two separate racial/cultural dynamics at work here with specific regards to the pieces you've highlighted. First, there's a different relationship to preexisting work in all the musical traditions of the African diaspora than in the European tradition. Musicians working in an African diaspora tradition --which includes all the black American musical forms, most notably jazz, ragtime, blues, rock, gospel, soul and hip hop --tend to treat music as a ongoing conversation, meaning they bring their own creativity to bear on existing songs, rather than seeking fidelity to the source. Black music often quotes and adapts older work, but doesn't reproduce it, and even successive performances by the same performer may be different each time. On the other hand, in the European music tradition, fidelity to the source is prized, so in general performers try to reproduce at least the original notes and rhythms exactly as written. Because of this, it's easier to assign credit for a given song directly to a single composer in the European tradition.

It's also indisputably the case that black artistic contributions have historically been undervalued due to pervasive racism in the cultural mainstream establishment. The work of black artists has too often been viewed as a free natural resource, something that only gains mainstream value when adopted, adapted or flat out arrogated by a white artist. It's hard not to see racism in the reasons why Shirley saw limited success in classical music, and, like Nina Simone, had to redirect his work towards the jazz audience, performing more often in nightclubs than in concert halls. Both dynamics come together in jazz, a hybrid of African and European musical traditions and conventions. Due to the collaborative and improvisational nature of jazz it can often be difficult to assign a single definitive author to any given piece, especially given that many of the most iconic works are jazz variations on musical themes that originated outside the jazz world. By convention, however (and again, at least partly because of pervasive devaluation of characteristically African modes of creativity) the attribution is often given to the original songwriter, even, when, as in the cases of Shirley's work, it is clear that it has been entirely reimagined, in a way that fully qualifies as original composition by any standard.

  • I agree with you! first I'd like to say that in my opinion writing a lullaby, a children song or even a pop song can't be compared with the work of a composer as this is the most simple part of the job. This can be done by almost everybody who has learnt the traditional music language. For this I would also say that it is ridicolous to ponder on the copyright of a pop song! It would be' something different if a songwriter also has written the lyrics. But the arrangement, also the improvisation and the instrumentation in my mind this is finally the great work of the composer of today. Feb 11, 2019 at 16:12
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    @AlbrechtHügli - After further research I have substantially edited this answer. Please see the new first section. Feb 11, 2019 at 19:22
  • this means I should probably edit my question ... I was just wondering why I couldn't find no sheet music advertisement. Feb 11, 2019 at 19:35

Don Shirley was a 20th-century African-American pianist and composer who often performed with the Don Shirley Trio. A chapter of his life story was the subject of the 2018 film 'Green Book.'


Here is another source mentioning him a composer:

Donald Shirley, a pianist and composer who gathered classical music with jazz and other forms of popular music under a singular umbrella after being discouraged from pursuing a classical career because he was black, died on April 6 at his home in Manhattan. He was 86. His death, which was not widely reported at the time, was caused by complications of heart disease, said Michiel Kappeyne van de Coppello, a friend who studied piano with Mr. Shirley.


As a proof of his composition talent I want to post this wonderful video:


someone mentioned that this song was "composed" by George Shearing. I'd say songwriter. But the contribution of Don Shirley in this performance is somehow bigger than the original's composer.

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    It's worth noting that the article you linked mentions that he wrote a symphonic work performed by Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra of Ontario, among other orchestral works. Feb 11, 2019 at 18:59

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