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This is a contributing entry for Virginia Women in History - Central Virginia Region and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.
Undine Smith Moore described herself as "a teacher who composes," while educating her students at nearby Virginia State University about music theory as well as the contributions of African Americans to American music and culture. During the 1950s she and her husband commissioned Frederick T. Hyland, a protoge of Frank Lloyd Wright, to design their home on River Road, in Ettrick.

  • Photograph of Undine Smith Moore, courtesy of Mark Atkinson.
  • The Library of Virginia honored Undine Smith Moore as one of its Virginia Women in History in 2017.
  • The Virginia Women in History Digital Trail is made possible by the Library of Virginia and American Evolution: Virginia to America, 1619–2019.
Born in Jarratt, Undine Smith Moore (August 25, 1904–February 6, 1989) grew up in Petersburg, where she began piano lessons at about age seven. Juilliard Graduate School recognized her talent, awarding her its first scholarship to complete her study of music at Fisk University, from which she graduated with honors in 1926. She taught music in public schools at Goldsboro, North Carolina, and in 1927 joined the faculty of Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University), where she remained until retiring in 1972. Her many notable students included jazz pianist Billy Taylor, opera singer Camilla Williams, and songwriter Phil Medley. In 1931 Moore received a master's degree from Columbia University. Shortly before her retirement she cofounded and codirected Virginia State's Black Music Center, which brought leading African American composers and artists to the Ettrick campus. 

Moore began composing while at Fisk University and is best known for her choral works, including Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, based on the life of Martin Luther King Jr., which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. More than two dozen of her works were published and several have appeared in anthologies. Moore credited her family and the close-knit African American communities in Jarratt and Petersburg for nurturing her love of music. She received numerous awards throughout her career, including the National Association of Negro Musicians' Distinguished Achievement Award in 1975 and the Governor's Award for the Arts in Virginia in 1985. In 1977 Moore was named music laureate of Virginia. 

Reprinted with permission of the Library of Virginia.