The tragic end of the only child of the most celebrated interracial marriage of the Harlem Renaissance

Philippa Duke Schuyler. Photo:

Philippa Duke Schuyler was born to Josephine Cogdell, a White writer, and George Schuyler, a well-known African-American journalist. Her mom, being from a family that engaged in farming, applied to her daughter the agricultural theory that crossing different genetic strains produced superior offspring known as “hybrid vigor”, according to this report.

As a matter of fact, Schuyler’s interracial parents believed that people with different racial backgrounds would produce a gifted or extraordinary child. This, they argued, could lead to racial harmony in the United States. Indeed, their child became gifted. They named her “Philippa,” referring to Philip of Macedonia and Philip Schuyler, the Revolutionary War general, and she did not fail her parents when it came to being extraordinary.

A child prodigy, Schuyler was reading and writing at the age of two. By just four, she was composing music and at five, she was performing Mozart in front of audiences. She was educated by private tutors and isolated from other children. At age eight, she was with an IQ of 185. By age ten, Schuyler was nationally recognized as the “brightest young composer in America”. The National Association of American Composers and Conductors invited her to become a member and she received several prizes for her compositions and performances.

In 1946, she made her debut as a composer and pianist with the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in New York City, in a show attended by about 12,000 people. Her mother was with her throughout this period, serving as her business manager, director, and best friend. Even though people described Schuyler as a child prodigy, her parents refused to use that word and said that their daughter’s talents were due to “hybrid genetics, proper nutrition, and intensive education.”

Actually, Schuyler’s diet was mostly raw foods. Artificial products such as sodas were not allowed. She also didn’t consume sugar, meat, cooked foods, fats and alcohol. Born in Harlem in 1931 and becoming the only child of the most celebrated interracial marriage of the Harlem Renaissance, her father also helped push her to fame. Her father’s employer, the Pittsburgh Courier, was not the only media organization to write about her as other papers spoke highly of her thanks to her father’s connections with them. Everyone adored her – both Blacks and Whites.

In spite of Schuyler’s success as a child with amazing talents, White America soon forgot about her as she entered young adulthood. She could only perform at concerts held by African-American organizations, and for the first time, she became aware of the racial prejudice her parents had protected her from during childhood.

“It was a ruthless shock to me that, at first, made the walls of my self-confidence crumble,” she wrote, according to “It horrified, humiliated me.”

Owing to racism in America, she left the country for Latin America. She played piano concerts in more than 80 countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Schuyler played at the inauguration of three successive presidents in Haiti. In Africa, she performed for Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, King Kalonji of the Baluba tribe, King George of Toro, and at Independence Day celebrations for Patrice Lumumba and Joseph Kasavubu of the Congo and Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah.

Despite earning worldwide acclaim, she was never invited to perform in the United States for prominent people. She hated the fact that America rejected her: “I’m a beauty but I’m half colored, so I’m not to be accepted anyplace,” she wrote. “I’m always destined to be an outsider, never, never part of anything. I hate my country and no one wants me in any other. I am emotionally part of nothing…. And that will always be my destiny.”

In the 1960s, she briefly toured in Europe as Felipa Monterro, a “gifted musician and writer who was no longer identifiable as the daughter of a Negro journalist,” according to her bio. During that period, she published five books about her life and travels, including Adventures in Black and White, Who Killed the Congo? (which is a summary of the Belgian Congo’s fight for independence), and Jungle Saints.

Beyond music, Schuyler worked as a journalist like her dad. Before her death, she started a career as a news correspondent and published several articles in scores of languages including German and French. On May 9, 1967, during the Vietnam War, she had gone to Vietnam as a correspondent for William Loeb’s Manchester Union Leader when she died. Schuyler passed away at the age of 35 in a helicopter crash while attempting to rescue Catholic schoolchildren from a war zone in Hue to the shelter of a school in Da Nang during the war.

Sources say that days before her tragic death, a clairvoyant had told her that on Tuesday, May 9, “her malefic period would be over and that she would emerge from the mouth of the Dragon.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 11, 2022


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