The prolific American composer, organist and choirmaster Leo Sowerby, the 'Dean of American church music', was born in Grand Rapids on 1 May 1895. Primarily self-taught, he started composing when he was ten. His early Violin Concerto was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He studied at the American Conservatory in Chicago and became friendly with Percy Grainger.
During World War I, Sowerby was a clarinet player and bandmaster in the US Army, serving in England and France. He subsequently remained in Europe for several years, studying in Rome. After returning to the USA, he began a long-term appointment as organist-choirmaster at St James' Episcopal Church in Chicago. He retired from this post and became the founding director of the College of Church Musicians at Washington National Cathedral.
His more than five hundred compositions include Canticle of the Sun, which received the 1946 Pulitzer Prize, many anthems, and five symphonies. There are many recordings of his works.
As a teacher, his students included Ned Rorem and William Ferris.
Sowerby died in Port Clinton on 7 July 1968.
CD Spotlight. Bold Simplicity - Patrick Maxwell listens to music from Wadham College Chapel, Oxford. 'The choral sound is well produced, if at times lacking in cohesion, and the interpretations at the hands of Katharine Pardee are well handled.'
CD Spotlight. A Cautionary Tale - Pulitzer Prize-winning choral and orchestral music, heard by Karen Haid. '... an important and largely successful undertaking.'
CD Spotlight. A Hint of Bitters - Music by William Ferris, heard by Howard Smith. 'Well worth investigating.'