Dr. Robert Alphonso Henry, head of Prairie View University’s Department of Art, Music and Drama (1967-1983), and founder and artistic director emeritus of the Houston Ebony Opera Guild, was born to William Marcus and Margaret Johnson Henry on June 22, 1916 in Oakwood, Texas. He was the second of three children born to this union.
Dr. Henry completed his undergraduate education at Prairie View State Normal & Industrial College in 1936, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education. The education he gained at Texas’ second oldest public institution of higher education prepared him to pursue a Master’s of Music in Piano Pedagogy from the University of Southern California, and a doctoral degree in music education from Indiana University. He continued studying music throughout the world, becoming a Fulbright Scholar in England where he conducted research at King’s College, Cambridge University.
Throughout his internationally distinguished 59-year career, Henry also served on the faculty of several institutions. Dr. Henry was a faculty member at Xavier University, Texas Southern University, Virginia State University, Jackson State University, and Southern University. In addition to his teaching and choral conducting responsibilities, he frequently served as music critic, choral clinician and producer of choral workshops across the nation.
His choirs performed with the Houston Grand Opera, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and during the Waynedale Festivals. He also was a guest conductor for the Houston Symphony Choral Society and the National Independence Choir of Nassau, Bahamas. His last years as a university professor were spent as head of the music department of Prairie View A&M University.
Following retirement in 1983, Henry began to focus on two of his special interests and ultimately founded the Houston Ebony Opera Guild. It was here that he devoted his talents and resources to establishing the Guild as a performing platform for talented, classically trained African-American singers. As the founding conductor and artistic director, Henry developed a group of talented musicians and established a loyal following. Even today, the organization continues to receive numerous accolades and performs critically acclaimed concerts and opera productions to standing room only crowds.
A native Texan, Robert Henry was an active member of Riverside United Methodist Church where he was a leader of the church’s administrative board and music committee.
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