Ulysses Kay: Twentieth Century Composer

Biography and Kay Family > Family


Barbara Harrison was born in Harlem, New York City, on October 29, 1925, but raised by her fraternal grandmother, Mary Eula Abby Lee Bostock Harrison Jackson, in Chicago. A pianist, she attended the James McCosh grammar school, Englewood High School, and Chicago Teachers College, followed by work at the University of Chicago, and Chicago Musical College. It was in Chicago that she met Ulysses Kay at a party. They were married three years later on August 20, 1949. Shortly after their marriage, for their honeymoon, as Barbara remembered it, they went to Rome, where they lived at the American Academy, during Ulysses's second "Prix de Rome," from 1949 to 1952.


Virginia Kay, their first child, was born in 1951 while Barbara and Ulysses were still at the American Academy in Rome. With the baby, they were given an apartment near Trastevere, in addition to Ulysses's studio in the Academy. During their three years in Rome, Barbara gave private piano lessons, taught music at the Anglo-American Overseas School, and studied Italian, Russian, French, and German. Virginia was nine months old when they returned to the United States. After she was a year old, Barbara began teaching English and social studies in the public schools in Harlem.


The Kay family would grow to five, with three daughters: Virginia, the oldest, Melinda in the middle, and Hillary the youngest. Today, Hillary Kay is a composer who performs her own music with Kate Freeman as "Wildsang."


Barbara and Ulysses Kay settled in Englewood, New Jersey,


Barbara Kay continued to be Ulysses's muse throughout his life, as shown here by this pairing of her photograph with the manuscript of his "Jersey Hours," written for voice and three harps, with text by Donald Dorr, premiered on January 7, 1979.


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