Don Shirley was a classical and jazz pianist and composer who went down as one of the great keyboard talents of his time. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 29, 1927. At the age of 9 he was extended an invitation to study theory with Mittolovski at the Leningrad Conservatory of music. He later studied with the famous organist Conrad Bernier, and took advanced composition classes with him and with Dr. Thaddeus Jones.
Shirley made his concert debut with the Boston “Pops” Symphony Orchestra in 1945, playing the Tchaikovsky B-flat minor concerto. But when he was in his mid-20s, he was discouraged from pursuing a classical career because he was black. He told his family and friends that impresario Sol Hurok had advised him to pursue a career in popular music and jazz, warning him that American audiences were not willing to accept a “colored” pianist on the concert stage.