The lone Black violinist in leading British orchestras

The lone Black violinist in leading British orchestras


norman lebrecht

January 16, 2022

For many years Edmund Reid, who has died aged 85, was the only black face to be seen in the major British orchestras.

Jamaica born, Edmund  won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music London and went on to  further study with Sascha Lasserson.

He played first in the Sadlers Wells orchestra, then applied to Covent Garden.

When he auditioned for Sir Georg Solti at the ROH in 1964, it was reported, ‘it took two months for the committee to discuss ‘whether it was OK to employ a black man”.

In 1987 he successfully sued English National Opera for refusing to name him co-leader after acting as concertmaster for two years.

A gentle, friendly man, he also led the Rehearsal Orchestra. Levon Parikian recalls: ‘Eddie Reid’s genial demeanour hid a musician of great sensitivity and integrity who led the Rehearsal Orchestra with distinction for more than 20 years. His ease at the violin set the standard for the section, but his presence was never intimidating, and he was always ready with a  kind word of encouragement when the going got tough. He brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to the leader’s role, and even the shortest orchestral solo was graced with his natural, singing tone. A supportive leader, he had strong opinions about orchestral string playing, but was always ready to try the alternative, and if he disagreed with a conductor’s ideas he would argue the toss with good humour. He usually won.’





  • Ellie says:

    Beautiful man …may he rest in power

  • Miko says:

    A very noble and respectful tribute Mr Lebrecht.

  • Todd Howell says:

    Who cares about him being black. Tired of race being the focus. Bet he is worthless and he only got mentioned because of race

    • Gerry McDonald says:

      You don’t get to be co leader at ENO by being worthless!

    • James says:

      At least read the article before you display your ignorance you racist jackass:

      ‘When he auditioned for Sir Georg Solti at the ROH in 1964, it was reported, ‘it took two months for the committee to discuss ‘whether it was OK to employ a black man”.’

    • Lynn says:

      Hi Todd, I agree with your initial sentence, why should we care if he’s black. But apparently all those who denied or hesitated to promote him, regardless of his credentials and capabilities, DID care about his skin color. No matter the accolades mentioned I imagine you would not allow yourself to acknowledge them in any way. You would instead ‘bet’ there was no worth in him. How sad that you cannot see past your own feelings of inadequacy.

    • Karen Deal says:

      Who are you? To call another human being worthless is a glimpse into your own wretched life. I really feel quite sorry for you. You must be a miserable man.

    • Adrienne says:

      Your comment started off well – I actually think you made a good point, but it was downhill all the way after that.

      According to the full Daily Telegraph obit, he played with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Sadler’s Wells, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera and the ENO. Not a bad career.

      I also note that he was with the ROH for 10 years (playing badminton after hours), so not that racist then. I wonder who ‘reported’ it.

  • David says:

    It’s a great photo, that. I think he is checking out some fingerings in a tricky passage of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Lovely man.

  • Outsider says:

    So long as we make a thing out of a person’s skin-tone (as opposed to ear-size, number of freckles, gender, eye colour or any other irrelevant dimension) then the discourse will continue. Hard to tell if the current climate is helping or making it harder to get past… time will tell.

    • Barbara says:

      The point is not that his skin color matters to Mr.Lebrecht or those who commented, but that this is part of his life story. Historically it mattered to those who decided whether a black could even be a part of an orchestra. Are we not to know what this musician was up against? Are we not supposed to learn from history? Shame on Todd for his ignorance.