Walker was one of the most prolific and accomplished American composers of the last century. The first African American to graduate with a Doctorate from Eastman in 1956 and the first African American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for his work Lilacs in 1996, George Walker’s accolades also included an Eastman Alumni Achievement Award in 1975 and the Rochester Distinguished Scholar Medal in 1996 from the University of Rochester.
Walker’s career and legacy brimmed with accomplishments and successes. He blazed the trail for many African American musicians by being the first black instrumentalist to appear with the Philadelphia Orchestra; the first black instrumentalist to be signed by a major management company, the National Concert Artists; the first black tenured faculty member at Smith College; the first recipient of the Minority Chair established by the University of Delaware; and the first composer to receive the John Hay Whitney Fellowship Award. George Walker composed more than 90 works for orchestra, chamber orchestra, piano, strings, voice, organ, clarinet, guitar, brass, woodwinds, and chorus.
Walker’s works have been performed by virtually every major orchestra in the United States and by many in England and other countries. His orchestral composition, Foils, was commissioned by the Howard Hanson Institute for American Music and premiered by the Eastman Philharmonia in 2006. Additional accolades include: the Harvey Gaul Prize, the Edward MacDowell Medal, the Yaddo medal, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, a Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust Award, and the Mason Gross Memorial Award; several fellowships and commissions, including Bennington Composer Conference Fellowships, two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Rockefeller Fellowships, a Fromm Foundation commission, two Koussevitzky commissions; and numerous grants from the Research Councils of Smith College, The University of Colorado, Rutgers University, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts, and honorary doctorate degrees from Lafayette College (1982), Oberlin College (1983), Montclair State University, Bloomfield College, Curtis Institute of Music (1997), and Spelman College (2001).
Walker was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999 and was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2000. He received the Dorothy Maynor Outstanding Arts Citizen Award in 2000 from the Harlem School of Arts. In March 2001, the Detroit Symphony awarded him its first annual Classical Roots Award for a lifetime of achievement in American Music. George Walker was awarded the prestigious A. I. duPont Composer’s Award in 2002, presented by the Delaware Symphony. In 2003, he was selected for inclusion in the Washington Music Hall of Fame (Washington, DC).