By Eric Dundon
When the Juilliard School of Music in New York City accepted pianist Eugene Haynes in 1944, the city of East St. Louis, Illinois, celebrated.
It was “a first for East St. Louis’ Black community, for East St. Louis as a city and for any Black community of our size in the country,” Eugene B. Redmond, East St. Louis poet and professor, told the St. Louis American newspaper in 2007.
Haynes was a child prodigy on the piano, and along with classmate Miles Davis—the well-known jazz trumpeter also from East St. Louis—attended one of the foremost music schools in the world.
Not long after his acceptance to Juilliard, Haynes, at age 22, began a decades-long relationship with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
The relationship began with a performance with the SLSO in 1947 at the Washington University Quadrangle, where, according to a newspaper article, about 2,000 people gathered to watch the orchestra and Haynes perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, widely regarded as one of Mozart’s greatest piano concertos.
Directed by Stanley Chapple, Haynes impressed the audience, as well as a local music critic, who wrote that Haynes displayed “unusual perception, undeniable talent and expert training.” The review also lauded Haynes’ interpretation of an encore, Johannes Brahms’ Intermezzo in B-flat minor.
Haynes performed twice with the SLSO in Kiel Auditorium: in 1949 with Harry Farbman on the podium performing Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and in 1966 with Music Director Eleazar de Carvalho leading Edvard Grieg’s famous Piano Concerto in A minor.
Haynes also performed Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 at an SLSO concert in Jefferson City, Missouri, in April 1966.
Haynes’ education at Juilliard may not have been possible without the support of a St. Louis business. His bosses at Stix Baer and Fuller, a St. Louis-based department store, allegedly heard Haynes play the piano during breaks from his job in a warehouse. Identifying his prodigious talent, Stix Baer and Fuller granted him a scholarship to continue his studies.
In the 1950s, Haynes studied with famed French composer and pianist Nadia Boulanger before spending much of his career overseas in Denmark. He returned to his Midwest roots, taking positions with Lincoln University in Jefferson City and Southern Illinois University.
Haynes died in 2007 in Belleville, Illinois, but leaves a long legacy of musical excellence. When he relocated back to St. Louis, he taught piano lessons, passing on his years of experience to a new generation of musical talent.
One of those students was Chris White, a talented musician who served as the accompanist for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra IN UNISON Chorus—a resident chorus that specializes in the performance and preservation of Black American musical expression.
Eric Dundon is the SLSO’s Public Relations Director.