Episode 74. Lucretia West (BHM2021 II)

Episode 74. Lucretia West (Black History Month 2021 II)



The great African American contralto Lucretia West, born on 13 November 1922, is one of the great singers of German Lieder in general and of the music of Gustav Mahler in particular. Though she occasionally appeared in her native country, the majority of her life and career was spent in Germany. She was a favorite of some of the greatest conductors of the 1950s and 1960s, including Hans Knappertsbusch, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Carl Schuricht, and Hermann Scherchen. Her collaborations with them are all featured in this episode. Her recorded legacy is not large, but it is impressive, and includes releases of Schubert Lieder and two albums of spirituals which are among the most significant contributions to that genre. Though she did not sing much opera, I did uncover a 1958 recording with Ferdinand Leitner of Carl Orff’s realization of Claudio Monteverdi’s Orpheus, in which she sings the role of La Messaggera (Die Botin in Orff’s German-language version). All of her work reveals a singer of enormous expressivity and makes an interesting contrast with that of her near-contemporary, Carol Brice.

I had originally intended to post this extra episode as a bonus for my Patreon supporters, but I decided that all of my Black History Month episodes should be available to all interested listeners, whether they are Patreon subscribers or not. Please enjoy, and please pass on the word to all persons who might enjoy learning more about some of the lesser-known African American singers of past generations. And, if you are so inspired, please do consider becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon. I’m so happy that you are here to join in the celebration of this magnificent artist!


Traditional Spiritual: Oh, What a Beautiful City. Lucretia West; Kurt Rapf [1958]

Carl Schuricht (1880 – 1967)

Johannes Brahms, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Ach, wer heilet die Schmerzen (Alt-Rhapsodie), Op. 53. Lucretia West; Carl Schuricht, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart, Stuttgart Lehrergesangverein

Hans Knappertsbusch (1888 – 1965), photographed in 1937 by Gordon Anthony

Gustav Mahler: Nun seh’ ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen (Kindertotenlieder). Lucretia West; Hans Knappertsbusch, Berliner Philharmoniker [live Berlin 09 April 1958]

Gustav Mahler: Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen). Lucretia West; Hermann Scherchen, Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper [1958]

Franz Schubert, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Rastlose Liebe, D. 138. Lucretia West; Leo Taubmann [1955]

Franz Schubert, Friedrich Klopstock: Dem Unendlichen, D. 291. Lucretia West; Leo Taubmann [1955]

Jonathan Brice

Traditional Spiritual: I Want Jesus to Walk with Me. Lucretia West; Jonathan Brice [1954]

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Sam Morgenstern: The Blind Man Stood on the Road. Lucretia West; Sam Morgenstern, Male Vocal Quartet

One of many books by Sam Morgenstern (1906 – 1989)

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Sam Morgenstern: The Gospel Train. Lucretia West; Sam Morgenstern, Male Vocal Quartet [1954]

Kurt Rapf (1922 – 2007)

Traditional Spiritual: No, I Don’t Feel Noways Tired. Lucretia West; Kurt Rapf [1958]

Lucretia West photographed in 2015

Traditional Spiritual: Trampin’. Lucretia West; Kurt Rapf [1958]

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Sam Morgenstern: Weepin’ Mary. Lucretia West; Sam Morgenstern, The Westminster Light Orchestra [1954]

Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896 – 1960)

Gustav Mahler, Friedrich Nietzsche: O Mensch! Gib Acht! (Symphony No. 3). Lucretia West; Dimitri Mitropoulos, Kölner Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester [Köln live radio performance 31 October 1960]

John Barbirolli (1899 – 1970)

Gustav Mahler, text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Es sungen drei Engel (Symphony No. 3). Lucretia West; John Barbirolli, Berliner Philharmoniker, Frauen- und Knabenchor der St. Hedwigskathedrale [live Berlin 8 March 1969]

Franz Schubert, Franz von Schober: An die Musik, D. 547. Lucretia West; Leo Taubmann [1954]

Traditional Spiritual: A City Called Heaven. Lucretia West; Kurt Rapf [1958]

Hermann Scherchen (1891 – 1966)

Gustav Mahler, text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Urlicht (Symphony No. 2). Lucretia West; Hermann Scherchen, Orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper [1958]

9 thoughts on “Episode 74. Lucretia West (BHM2021 II)”

  1. I thank you for this marvelous tribute to a great singer whom I, unfortunately, was never made aware of until this moment! It has been my loss, for I would have made it my goal to visit her on one of my past visits to the Washington, D.C. area!

    1. Dear Mr. Shirley, I am honored beyond words that you enjoyed my episode on Lucretia West. Hearing your recording of Pelléas for the first time was as formative an experience for me as was my first encounter with the voice of Leontyne Price several years earlier when I was barely out of todderlerhood. Many thanks for your great artistry and dedication to educating younger generations of singers. Sincerely yours, Daniel Gundlach

  2. I thank you for this marvelous tribute to a great singer whom I, unfortunately, was never made aware of until this moment! It has been my loss, for I would have made it my goal to visit her on one of my past visits to the Washington, D.C. area!


  3. Thank you Daniel for introducing this wonderful singer whom I did not know. She truly is a gem with this most soulful voice. I also loved your presentation and a bit of history about her life and the lives of the conductors. You are a gem, too.
    I did have the honor of working along side of Carol Brice at Radio City when she sang the role of Maria.
    Thanks again for this beautiful program.

    1. Dear Barbara, thank you so much for writing about my Lucretia West program and for sharing your own personal history of having performed with Carol Brice in Porgy and Bess at City Center. I hope that you will check out some of my other episodes as well. I’m hoping in the near future to do an episode on all of the exceptional vocalists that Duke Ellington performed and recorded with. That will happen some time in the coming months… Please stay well and (as much as possible) cheerful. All best wishes to you, Daniel

  4. Thank you so much for enriching my life with exposure to this great singer. Also in reply to Mr. Shirley I was lucky enough to hear you when I was growing up and you sang in the Barber of Seville at Queens College in NY near where I grew up.

  5. Lucretia West was my favorite singer of Mahler in the early ’60s, when I was an undergraduate, and I lost the record many years ago. Just found one today and ordered an old copy. I didn’t know about her other recordings, but I listened to the Mahler lieder recordings many hundreds of times. One of the greatest contraltos, and my personal favorite. Thank you for posting more information than I’ve been able to find previously. What a great project you have created.


    1. Dear George, Please forgive my delayed response to your lovely message. Yes, the late Ms. West was one of the great Mahler singers, for sure, even though she is less celebrated today than the other greats in this repertoire. I am so pleased that you enjoyed this episode and I hope that you will be able to find other episodes that are of interest to you as well! It’s feedback like this that gives me the incentive to keep up the episodes! All best to you from Berlin, and keep cool! – Daniel

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