How Ann Hobson Pilot Became a Trailblazer for Black Harpists

Ann Hobson Pilot is a remarkable musician who has made history as the first African American musician in the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and a trailblazer for black harpists. She has also performed with many other prestigious orchestras and as a soloist, and has received numerous honors and awards for her achievements. In this blog post, we will explore her inspiring journey and legacy.

Ann Hobson was born on November 6, 1943, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in an African American family. Her mother was a concert pianist who encouraged her to pursue music. She began studying the harp when she was 14, and soon showed great talent and passion for the instrument. However, she faced many challenges and barriers due to her race. For example, she was rejected by the Maine Harp Colony, a summer program for harpists, because of her skin color. She also encountered discrimination and prejudice in the classical music world, which was dominated by white musicians.

Despite these obstacles, Ann Hobson persevered and pursued her musical education. She graduated from the Philadelphia Musical Academy and then transferred to the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied with Alice Chalifoux, a renowned harpist who had played with the Cleveland Orchestra for 43 years. She received a Bachelor of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

In 1966, Ann Hobson made history by becoming the first black member of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., where she played as master harpist for three years. She then moved to Pittsburgh, where she was the second harpist with the Pittsburgh Symphony. In 1969, she joined the BSO as Assistant Principal Harp and Principal Harp of the Boston Pops. She was one of four African American musicians who were the first to play in United States symphony orchestras during the 1960s.

In 1980, she was named Principal Harpist of the BSO, a position she held until her retirement in 2009. During her 40-year career with the BSO, she performed with many distinguished conductors and soloists, and played a wide repertoire of classical and contemporary music. She also appeared as a soloist with the BSO and Boston Pops on several occasions, showcasing her virtuosity and expressiveness on the harp. She also played at various festivals and chamber music events, such as the Marlboro Festival, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, and the contemporary music ensemble Collage. She also founded the New England Harp Trio with two other harpists.

Ann Hobson Pilot has received many honors and awards for her musical excellence and contributions. Some of them include Sigma Alpha Iota’s Distinguished Woman of the Year Award in 1991, the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts School of Music Alumni Achievement Award in 1992, and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1993. She has also been recognized by various organizations and institutions for her role as a pioneer and mentor for black musicians and harpists. For example, she received an honorary doctorate from Tufts University in 2010, and was featured in a documentary film called A Harpist’s Legacy: Ann Hobson Pilot and the Sound of Change in 2012.

Besides her concert career, Ann Hobson Pilot was also a music teacher who shared her knowledge and experience with many students. She taught at several schools and programs, such as New England Conservatory, Boston University, Tanglewood Music Center, and Boston University Tanglewood Institute. She also gave master classes and workshops around the country.

Ann Hobson Pilot is a remarkable musician who has made history as the first African American musician in the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and a trailblazer for black harpists. She has also performed with many other prestigious orchestras and as a soloist, and has received numerous honors and awards for her achievements. Her journey and legacy are an inspiration for all musicians and music lovers.

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