According to a 2004 article in the Guardian, "black conductors are rare in the classical music world and even in symphony orchestras it is unusual to see more than one or two black musicians." Canadian-born black conductor Kwamé Ryan, who studied music at Cambridge University and in Germany, made his professional conducting debut in 2004. Ryan says the "...message given to young, black people, particularly in North America, was... that you can be a star athlete; you can be a pop star...[but the] possibility for black children [to become a conductor] is not encouraged in schools or in the media." Ryan states that young blacks have a lack of "...exposure [to black conductor role models] and it is a deficit that is passed on from generation to generation." Ryan said he has "...no optimism for the future."
William Grant Still (1895–1978) was one of the first African Americans to conduct a major American symphony orchestra in the Deep South, the first to have a symphony (his first symphony) performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. As a classical composer, he wrote more than 150 compositions. After finishing college, he won a scholarship to study at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Between 1919 and 1921, he worked as an arranger for W. C. Handy"s band. In the 1930s, he arranged music for many films. In 1955 he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic Orchestra and became the first African American to conduct a major orchestra in the Deep South.
Everett Lee (born in 1913) "was [a]...violinist who led the orchestra in the original Broadway production of Carmen Jones and played the oboe on stage in the country club scene." In 1945, he was the "first African American to conduct a major Broadway production." Leonard Bernstein asked Lee to conduct On the Town, which marked the "...first time a black conductor led an all-white production." In 1946, Lee won a "Koussevitzky Music Foundation