Internationally acclaimed American pianist Althea Waites tells parts of her life story through the simultaneous discovery of music.
Born in 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a musical family; her father and grandfather played the piano, and her mother sang in the church choir. She began studying piano at age five. She made her debut with the New Orleans Philharmonic at age 17. Waites studied music at Xavier University in New Orleans and went on to earn a master’s degree in piano from Yale University. She also studied with Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory. After graduating, Waites toured as a performer and taught at a number of East Coast institutions, including Smith College.
Waites has said that she has been on a “crusade” to perform music by Black women composers. In 1987, she made her recording debut with an album of piano works by Florence Price. She was the first pianist to make a recording of Price’s music. A review in the academic journal The Black Perspective in Music highlighted the album’s significance as a record of an important figure (Price) in American music history. Waites has performed across the United States and in Canada, Europe, and Latin America. In 1989, Waites toured the then-Soviet Union, performing in Moscow, Kiev, and Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg).