1895-1968
portrait

May 1, 1895, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

July 7, 1968, Port Clinton, Ohio. He died while at Camp Wa-Li-Ro, in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, the summer choir camp where he taught many years.

Sowerby began composing at age ten. Early recognition came when his violin concerto was premiered in 1913 by the Chicago [Illinois] Symphony Orchestra. In 1919, Sowerby became associate organist at the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. In 1921, he won the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, the first composer to receive the award. In 1927 Sowerby became organist-choirmaster at St James’ Episcopal Church, Chicago, which was consecrated as a cathedral while he was there (1955). In 1946, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata Canticle of the Sun.

In 1962, after his retirement from St James’, Sowerby was called to Washington National Cathedral to be the first director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death.

Sowerby composed over 500 works in every genre but opera and ballet. His later works, done at St James’, Chicago, and the National Cathedral, are primarily church music for choir and organ.

Sowerby’s notable pupils include Robert Beadell, Miriam Clapp Duncan, William Ferris, Edwin Fissinger, Milan Kaderavek, Gail Kubik, Roland Leich, Darwin Leitz, Norman Luboff, Maylon Merrill (Jack Benny’s longtime music director), Gerald Near, William Partridge, Florence Price, Ned Rorem, Ronald Stalford, Robert Stewart, and David Van Vactor.

  1. Perry, 1962

Sowerby’s burial place