Unfortunately, little information is readily available on the life and work of Julia Perry (1924-1979). She was born in Kentucky, raised in Ohio, and studied at the Westminster Choir College, Juilliard, and abroad, including with Nadia Boulanger in France.
Among her compositions are several secular cantatas – Chicago was written for her master’s thesis. She is perhaps most famous for her one-act opera, The Cask of Amontillado based on the short story by Poe. In addition to works for voice, Perry also composed a total of twelve symphonies. Her Short Piece for Orchestra was performed by the New York Philharmonic in 1965. Along with composing, Perry became a skilled conductor, leading a series of concerts in Europe. After suffering a stroke in 1971 she taught herself to write with her left hand so that she could continue composing.
Christine Ammer, author of Unsung: A History of Women in American Music provides more information about Perry’s life and work – you can read an excerpt from Ammer’s work here. You can also read more on the Africlassical blog. Some of her work is still available to purchase.
Below is Perry’s arrangement of the Negro Spiritual, “I’m a Poor Lil Orphan”: