Cellist Donald White: Making History While Making Music

Written by Dianna White-Gould
Guest Contributor

Cellist Donald White and his wife Dolores White, a pianist, composer, and educator.

Monday, October 7, 1957, was the day Donald White, a young African American cellist, had envisioned for a lifetime. He was on his way to take his seat in the cello section of the internationally acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra in Cleveland, Ohio. The orchestra was celebrating its 40th anniversary and had just returned from a triumphant European tour. This was a childhood dream of his when he was growing up in Richmond, Indiana. Now he was going to be joining one of the greatest symphony orchestras in America at a very significant time in history, the Civil Rights Era.

Before 1957, there were no African-Americans hired as full-time members of the five major symphony orchestras. White’s hiring was a historic moment in the midst of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. His tenure in the orchestra spanned from 1957 – 1995. He has the distinction of being the longest-serving African American member of one of the top five orchestras.

White was a native of Richmond, Indiana and the middle child of his family’s seven children. He started playing cello when he was 16, and he was drafted into the Navy in 1943. After leaving the Navy, he earned a music degree at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Following a successful audition with Maestro George Szell, White was invited to join the Cleveland Orchestra.

Darrow White and Dianna White-Gould perform in Reinberger Chamber Hall, Severance Hall.

Donald White and his wife, pianist, composer, and educator Dolores White, lived in Cleveland and raised two children, both musicians. Dianna is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory where she studied piano and music education. She went on to obtain a Masters Degree in Piano Performance. She has frequently performed the works of her mother and other African American composers, including Hale Smith and H. Leslie Adams from Cleveland, Ohio. She is on the faculty of Tri-C and The Music Settlement and is the vocal director at Dike School of the Arts. Darrow is a Heights High School graduate and Hall of Fame Member from 1977 for Outstanding Musician. He went on to graduate from Yale University,

Hartt School of Music, and Boston University and has a Doctorate in Music Education. He works as an educator in Virginia.

Cover of the program for a Memorial Tribute Concert to cellist Donald White. (Praying Grounds Collection, Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University.)