Margaret Harris, a noted conductor, pianist and composer recently died at the age of 56. The cause was a heart attack. The first black woman to conduct the symphony orchestras of Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Minnesota, and orchestras of 11 other American cities, Harris began her musical career as a piano prodigy. At 10 she performed with the Chicago Symphony and won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute. She later earned bachelors and masters degrees from the Juilliard School.
Harris also gained prominence on Broadway, where she became musical director of the musical Hair in 1970. Her orchestra was made up of seven male musicians, all older than she. In an interview with The New York Times about this pioneering engagement for a black women, Ms. Harris was quoted as saying," they don't give me a bit of trouble personally or professionally." She added, "It's like having an unlimited charge account at Saks Fifth Avenue."
In 1995, Ms. Harris was invited by the United States Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan to serve as an American cultural specialist for a production there of Porgy and Bess.
Her compositions include two ballets, the opera King David, and two piano concertos. Her Second Piano Concerto was performed twice with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta. A month before her death she was appointed associate dean of the Pennsylvania Academy of Music in Lancaster, a position she was scheduled to resume in June.
Ms. Harris is not survived by any immediate family members.