Maude Bascome Cummings Taylor (1897-1984)
In acknowledgement of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues the publication of stories throughout February on African-American, Black Bermudian and global African people, events and institutions, and their contributions in history
Bermudian-born Maude Bascome Cummings Taylor emigrated as a young woman to the United States, where she established herself as a pianist, organist, music teacher and choir director.
A woman with boundless energy, she ran a music school on weekdays, teaching voice and piano, and directed church choirs on Sundays.
At Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, where she was a choir director for 45 years, she is remembered as a “composer, musician par excellence”.
Taylor, the eldest of nine children, was born in Pembroke East to Rhoda and Ainsworth Bascome, and raised as a member of St Paul AME Church. Her mother was a musician.
Taylor’s musical talent emerged early in her childhood and she nurtured it all her life. She took her first piano lesson at age 3 and composed her first song when she was 12.
Taylor attended the Berkeley Institute, a member of the Class of 1914. The record is silent on her growing-up years and early adulthood in Bermuda, but she is said to have played piano for silent movies.
Her talent caught the attention of a US film company, which offered her a job touring the States. But she had to turn down the offer because her deeply religious father did not approve of movies.
In June 1923, at age 26, she sailed to New York aboard the Fort Victoria with the goal of furthering her studies at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, but marriage and motherhood intervened.
She married Richard Cummings in 1925. The couple set up home in Brooklyn, New York, and had two children, Gloria and Richard. In the 1930s, Taylor opened a music school, where Richard Cummings also taught. Their children were among their students.
Taylor’s school was later known as MBC Music Studio. She presented annual recitals and also established a scholarship fund for promising music students. Her sister, Thyra, a well-known pianist and music teacher in Bermuda, taught at the school during the 1950s.
Taylor became a choir director shortly after her move to New York. She served for a year at Friendship Baptist Church, followed by 14 years at Newman Memorial Church. Her longest period of service was at Cornerstone Baptist Church, where she was choir director — the position later became known as minister of music — for 45 years until her death at age 87.
At Cornerstone, she led a 50-voice choir, and taught voice and piano to many of its members, at her studio.
Taylor was a lifelong student of music, taking courses at such prestigious institutions as Columbia University in New York, Matlock College in England, Mozart University in Salzburg, Austria, and Fontainebleau Schools in France, where students were accepted by audition.
Taylor was twice married. She divorced her first husband and married William Taylor in 1944. According to Taylor’s obituary, the two “shared teaching duties and church fellowship happily until his demise in 1972”.
Although Brooklyn would become Taylor’s permanent home, Bermudians were kept abreast of her achievements, usually through reports carried in the Bermuda Recorder.
In August 1934, four of her original songs were performed at a Festival of Negro Music held at the Opera House in commemoration of the abolition of slavery. Taylor wrote many songs during her lifetime and was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
In July 1935, the Recorder reported from New York on a recital at her school. In September 1956, the Recorder published an article about Taylor’s sister, Thyra, who had recently returned to Bermuda after four years’ residence in New York.
Taylor’s MBC Studio was a thriving enterprise with six pianos, according to the article. Classes were held from morning to night. Taylor’s husband, William Taylor, taught piano and her daughter and son-in-law, Gloria and Frederick Dennard, taught voice at the studio. Thyra Bascome also taught there.
In 1972, the Recorder reported how Taylor was honoured by Cornerstone Church at a service on October 29 that saw four church choirs taking part and many of her original compositions on the programme. According to the article, Taylor had taught hundreds of students at her school, several of whom had risen to the top ranks in music.
Taylor died in 1984 and was buried at The Evergreens in New York after a “service of triumph” at Cornerstone. She was survived by her daughter and son, seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
She passed on her musical gifts to her children and several grandchildren. Her daughter, Gloria DeNard, a graduate of the Juilliard School and a singer, was founder and director of Manna House Workshops, a music school in East Harlem, New York. She died in 2020.Taylor’s grandsons, Richard Cummings and Kenwood Dennard, are professional musicians. Kenwood Dennard is also an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In 2006, Taylor was honoured posthumously with a Bermuda Arts Council Founders Award. Gloria DeNard accepted the award on her mother’s behalf and sang one of Taylor’s songs at the ceremony.
• Courtesy of Meredith Ebbin and bermudabiographies.bm