The Forgotten Story of Lucien-Leon Guillaume Lambert
Charles Lucien Lambert Sr.
The story of this brilliant, sometime forgotten, underrated composer can date back to the ugly history of racial discrimination in the United States. His family’s sojourner led this brilliant man to work and strive in his chosen profession. It was that sacrifice of his father that made that opportunity possible.
Lucien-Leon Guillaume Lambert was born January 5th 1858 to composer and pianist Charles Lucien Lambert and his French mother. His father (Pere) emigrated to France because it was believed that he felt there was a lack of opportunity afforded to him as a composer and pianist because he was a free man of color living in New Orleans before the American Civil War. Since Charles and his family were Creole, they were afforded some special privilege but not the same as white citizens. So in 1854, Charles moved to France to work at his craft. Then, four years later, Lucien Lambert fil (son) was born.
In 1860, his father moved the family to Rio De Janeiro where he became part of the Brazilian National Institute of Music. While in Rio, Fil studied under his Pere and French Creole composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. However, Fil returned to France around 1870 to make his mark as a musician and composer. While Fil was pursuing his dreams, in 1896, Charles died in Rio, never returning to France or New Orleans again.
In Paris, Fil studied music at the Conservatoire de Paris where musicians like Théodore Dubois and Jules Massenet (other than his father) influenced his later work. While studying at the Conservatoire, he and Georges Matthias won the Rossini Concours Prize for the composition Prométhée enchaîné (Prometheus Bound). The prize validated the hard work he put forth.
Fil became a better known composer and pianist than his father could have imagined. Working together with Edmond Dede, their compositions became known as ‘Creole Romantic Music’ tracing its musical influence to New Orleans, France, West Indies, Portugal and Latin America. Lucien created a new sound that took all of what he had experienced and learned and made it his own.
After his success in France, Fil relocated to Portugal to be the pianist at the Royal Court of Portugal along with his uncle Sidney Lambert (Charles’ half- brother) who was also a brilliant composer and pianist in his own right. King Dom Pedro often praised Fil for his musical innovation. Moreover, it was said that he was the first classical composer of African descent to be recorded. That was in 1905 in Lisbon, Portugal for the Pathe Company.
In 1945, he died in Paris at the age of 87. However, his music and papers are held at the Bibliotheque Nationale (in Paris) where one can go to find out about this legend that should always be remembered.
“Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana's Free People of Color” Edited by Sybil Kein
"Lambert, Lucien-Leon Guillaume (1858-1945)” by BlackPast.org