Fela Sowande

Fela Sowande was born in Oyo, in Southern Nigeria, on May 29, 1905. He studied music in Lagos and then went to London in 1934, where he became a recording artist, leader of his own jazz band, and worked with J. Rosamond Johnson and Adelaide Hall. He played duets with “Fats” Waller at the Florida Club in Mayfair, and served as theatre organist for the BBC. At the same time he was taking courses at London University, the Trinity College of Music, and the Royal College of Organists, winning three prizes, one of which was for scoring the highest marks for the whole examination. His teachers included Professor George Oldroyd, Dr. Edmund Rubbra, and Dr. G. D. Cunningham. During World War II he served in the Royal Air Force, but was released at the request of the Ministry of Information to go to the Colonial Film Unit as Musical Advisor. Later he was appointed Organist and Choirmaster to the West London Mission.

In 1944 Sowande was invited to conduct the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra in the performance of his tone-poem Africania, an orchestral work based on an African melody. In the same year he composed an African Suite for Strings which was recorded along with original works for the organ on Decca Records. On invitation from the Director of the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, he returned to Nigeria in 1953 to accept the position of Musical Director of the Nigerian Broadcast Service where he built up the choir, and served as Honorary Organist at the Cathedral Church of Christ in Lagos. In 1956 he was awarded the “Member of the British Empire” by Queen Elizabeth for “distinguished service in the cause of music”. In 1957 he received a grant from the State Department to travel in the United States. Sowande wrote the Nigerian Folk Symphony in 1960 which was played in Nigeria that year when the country was celebrating its independence from Britain. He returned to the United States in 1961 on a Rockefeller Grant, and on June 1, 1961, he conducted members of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in a program of his own compositions including the Nigerian Folk Symphony.

The Sowande School of Music was established at the University of Nsukka (Nigeria) in 1962, and he was awarded the Member of the Federation of Nigeria in 1964. Sowande joined the staff of the University College at Ibadan where he served as Professor of Musicology from 1965 to 1968.

Most of his time after 1968 was spent living, teaching and lecturing in the United States. He was honored when his work The African Suite was requested to be performed when Nigerian author Wole Soyinka received his 1981 Nobel Prize in Sweden. Sowande was Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, and had affiliations with other institutions such as Howard University, and Kent State University. He had become a naturalized citizen of the United States before passing away at the age of 82 on March 13, 1987, while living with his wife in Randolph, Ohio.

Fela Sowande — Obangiji

A wind quintet transcription of a West African Yoruba anthem (“Praise”) by the Nigerian-born organist/composer, Fela Sowande (1905-1987). Arranged by Adam Lesnick. (Available in USA and Canada only)

Suited for:


For Woodwind Quintet, 4-5 minutes.
WW5-9858 . . . $23.00

Fela Sowande — Obangiji

A brass quintet transcription of a West African Yoruba anthem by the Nigerian organist/composer, Fela Sowande (1905-1987). Transcribed by Adam Lesnick.

Suited for:


For Brass Quintet, 4 minutes.
BR5-0958 . . . $23.00

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