In recognition of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues to publish articles throughout February on African American, Black Bermuda and African peoples around the world, events and institutions, and their contributions to history.
Maude Bascome Cummings Taylor, born in Bermuda, emigrated as a young woman to the United States, where she established herself as a pianist, organist, music teacher and choir director.
Maude Bascome CummingsTaylor
A woman of boundless energy, she ran a music school on weekdays, teaching voice and piano, and led church choirs on Sundays.
At Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, where she served as 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 grew up a member of St Paul’s AME Church. His mother was a musician.
Taylor’s musical talent emerged early in her childhood and she nurtured it throughout her life. She took her first piano lesson at age 3 and composed her first song at age 12.
Taylor attended the Berkeley Institute, a member of the Class of 1914. The record is silent about her growing up years and early adulthood in Bermuda, but she is said to have played piano for silent films.
His talent caught the attention of an American film company, which offered him a touring job in the United States. But she had to turn down the offer because her deeply religious father didn’t approve of movies.
In June 1923, at age 26, she sailed for New York aboard the Fort Victoria with the goal of continuing her studies at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, but marriage and motherhood intervened.
She married Richard Cummings in 1925. The couple settled 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. His sister, Thyra, a well-known pianist and music teacher in Bermuda, taught at the school in the 1950s.
Taylor became choir director shortly after moving to New York. She served one year at Friendship Baptist Church and then 14 years at Newman Memorial Church. Her longest period of service was at Cornerstone Baptist Church, where she served as 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 in her studio.
Taylor has studied music all his life, taking classes at such prestigious institutions as Columbia University in New York, Matlock College in England, Mozart University in Salzburg, Austria, and the schools of Fontainebleau in France, where students were accepted by audition.
Taylor has been married twice. She divorced her first husband and married William Taylor in 1944. According to Taylor’s obituary, the two “happily shared teaching duties and church fellowship until his death in 1972”.
Although Brooklyn became Taylor’s permanent residence, Bermudians were kept informed of his accomplishments, usually through reports published in the Bermuda recorder.
In August 1934, four of his original songs were performed at a Black Music Festival held at the Opera House in commemoration of the abolition of slavery. Taylor wrote many songs during her life 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 his school. In September 1956, the Recorder published an article about Taylor’s sister, Thyra, who had recently returned to Bermuda after four years of residence in New York.
Taylor’s MBC studio was a thriving business with six pianos, according to the article. Classes took place from morning to evening. Taylor’s husband, William Taylor, taught piano, and his 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 honored by Cornerstone Church at a service on October 29 which saw the participation of four church choirs and several of her original compositions on the program. According to the article, Taylor had taught hundreds of students at his school, many of whom had risen to the highest echelons of music.
Taylor died in 1984 and was buried at The Evergreens in New York City after a “triumph service” at Cornerstone. She is survived by her daughter and son, seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
She passed on her musical gifts to her children and several grandchildren. His daughter, Gloria DeNard, a Juilliard School graduate and singer, was the 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 Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In 2006, Taylor posthumously received a Founders Award from the Bermuda Arts Council. 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