African-American conductor James 'Jimmy' DePreist was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 21 November 1936. He studied composition with Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory whilst working towards his bachelor and master's degrees at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1962 he contracted polio in Bangkok, but recovered enough to be able to win first prize in the Dmitri Mitropoulos International Conducting Competition. Leonard Bernstein selected DePriest, who conducted from a wheelchair, to become assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic for the 1965-66 season. He went on to lead many orchestras in Europe and America. Antal Dorati took him on in 1971 as associate conductor of the US National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC, and from 1976 until 1983 he was music director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. Other positions have been with the Malmo Symphony Orchestra, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic and the Oregon Symphony. He has guest conducted in many cities including Rome, Sydney and London, and has made over fifty recordings and received fifteen honorary doctorates.
An unusual honour, whilst serving as permanent conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, was that DePreist's name and appearance were used in the Japanese manga and anime Nodame Cantabile (a series following the fortunes of two aspiring classical musicians), and in real-life he conducted the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra to provide the music for the anime and the live action TV drama.
DePreist suffered a heart attack in 2012, never completely recovering, and he died at home in Scottsdale, Arizona on 8 February 2013, aged seventy-six.