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New Film Recovers The Story Of Classical Music’s Forgotten Black Virtuoso

At age 2, Joshua Coyne was removed from his Kansas City home with broken legs and hips. His foster mother was responsible.

He was placed in the care of Jane Coyne, a single woman with a love of classical music. During his recovery, Jane began to play a Puccini aria and to her surprise, Joshua was able to hum it back, note for note. From there, Jane began to help him hone his gift as a musical prodigy.

Young Joshua began formal musical lessons at 4 and two years later, debuted as a paid violinist. He performed for then-Senator Barack Obama at a campaign rally at the tender age of 14. He put his studies at the Manhattan School of Music to use, composing the score of Janet Langhart Cohen’s one-act play Anne and Emmett.

Now, at 20, he is the face of the film adaptation of Rita Dove’s acclaimed book, Sonata Mulattica, Dove’s interconnected poems that tell the story of another prodigy, 19th century violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower.

Born to a Polish-German mother and Afro-Carribean father, Bridgewater performed all over Europe, thrilling royal audiences and garnering rave reviews. Ludwig Van Beethoven named one of his greatest violin sonatas after his friend and contemporary, but a spat between them caused Beethoven to re-title the work and cut off his friend. Bridgetower continued composing and teaching but gradually fell into obscurity.

It is gratifying that Dove, an Anisfield-Wolf jury member who plays the cello and its forerunner, the viola da gamba, has brought Bridgewater’s life center-stage. 

Rita Dove, playing the viola da gamba

The film intersects Coyne’s present journey with Bridgewater’s rightful place in history, adding layer and nuisance to the lives of two prodigies born centuries apart. “This story is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of extraordinary obstacles,” said director and executive producer Andrea Kalin. “It reveals how music and art have the power not only to open our hearts, but transform our lives.”

For more on the film, visit the website at www.ProdigyDocumentary.com

 

 

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