Julia A. Perry Collection Finding Aid

Julia A. Perry Collection Finding Aid, ca. 1925-1979

Creator: Julia A. Perry

Title: Julia A. Perry Collection Finding Aid

Dates:  ca. 1925-1979

Abstract: Contains papers related to Westminster Choir College alumna Julia Amanda Perry (1924-1979) (BM ’47, MM ’48). The collection illustrates her life as a music student, teacher, and composer, and includes photographs, clippings, official documents, notes, and other materials related to her life. Also included are Perry authored plays and spirituals. Additional materials on Julia Perry, including correspondence and additional biographical materials, can be found in her alumni file.


Donated by Alycia Berry, Julia Perry’s sister, 2008.

Biographical Note

Julia Perry was born in 1924 in Lexington, KY to upper middle class African-American parents, Dr. Abe Perry and America Lois Heath Perry. She attended the University of Akron (Ohio) from 1942-1943. She attended Westminster Choir College from 1943 to 1947 for her Bachelor of Music degree and in 1948 completed her Master of Music degree. Her master’s thesis cantata was titled Chicago, a secular cantata based on the poems of Carl Sandburg.

After graduation, she studied with prominent conducting and composition instructors in Europe and the United States. She went on to additional graduate studies with Luigi Dallapiccola at the Berkshire Music Center and at the Juilliard School of Music. She also studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. She studied conducting in Siena, Italy and worked for the U.S. Information Service touring European cities, lecturing, and conducting orchestras.  She later worked in the United States, taught private piano instruction, worked at a college lecturer at Florida A&M, and continued to lecture, conduct, and compose.

In the 1950s and 1960s her work as a composer garnered her significant attention. She was a prolific composer who created a variety of music including full orchestra, band, solo voice, choral music, and dramatic music among others. Her works were performed by the New York Philharmonic, Clarion Concerts and other orchestras. Her recordings of her compositions Stabat Mater, Short Piece, and Homunculus C.F. were released by Composers Recordings in the 1960s. She won numerous awards for her work, including those of the National Association of Negro Musicians, the Boulanger Grand Prix, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters award among others.

As an African-American woman Perry pushed the boundaries of race and gender during an era which saw few composers of her background gain recognition. Her career was severely hampered in 1970 when she had the first of several strokes, which left her paralyzed on the right side. She taught herself to write with her left hand and continued to compose in the 1970s while in and out of the hospital and in declining health. She died in 1979 at age 55 in Akron, Ohio. Her achievements were recognized posthumously in 1984 by Westminster Choir College, which awarded her the Alumni Merit Award.

Scope and Content Note

Materials included in this collection are biographical information and clippings, photographs, a diploma, a passport, a  typewritten dramatic play, music publishing correspondence and contract, musical transcriptions, and notes pertaining to the life and work of Julia A. Perry, Westminster Choir College graduate and established music composer and instructor. Additional materials, including hand written correspondence, can be found in the Julia A. Perry alumni file.

Subject Access Points

Perry, Julia A.

Perry, Lois A.

Westminster Choir College

African-American women composers

Composers (Music)

Clippings (Books, clippings, etc.)




Folder Title Date Box Folder

Biographical/Clippings/Programs/Julia and Lois A. Perry (Julia’s mother) related correspondence





ca. 1925- ca.1960



Official Documents—includes diploma and passport

ca. 1936-1957



Play by Julia Perry titled Fisty, m-e!




Copyright and Carl Fischer, Inc. music publishing documents




Transcriptions of spirituals (four movement spiritual for orchestra and Three Movement Spiritual for Orchestra, includes Stabat Mater composed by Julia Perry, and excerpts from unfinished Perry authored opera titled The Sympleglades or Mary Easty and Gallows Hill

ca. 1950s-1960s



Notebook and loose typed pages --bibliographical, program, and introductory notes

No date