Horace Clarence Boyer

Photo from the Journal of Gospel Music

African American, Music

Horace Clarence Boyer


Horace Clarence Boyer was a performer/scholar of African American gospel music who educated others on the performance and compositional practices of the music tradition.

Horace Clarence Boyer was born in 1935 in Winter Park, Florida, the fourth of Climmie L. Sr. and Ethel W. Boyer’s eight children. With both parents serving as ministers in the Church of God in Christ, he was raised in a very religious home and sang in the church choir from the third grade. When Horace was 11, he began singing with his 12-year-old brother, James. At ages 12 and 13, the brothers went to live with an aunt who taught them both church music and sanctified music, including gospel and ballads. When they returned home, Horace and James began performing sanctified music at local churches as a duo; and at ages 15 and 16, they began recording gospel records as the Boyer Brothers. With the money they earned from their performances, the brothers funded their educations at Bethune-Cookman College, and later toured throughout 40 states as headliners as well as with gospel stars such as Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, and Dorothy Love Coates.  

In 1957, Boyer earned his BA in music. After returning from service as an organist and choirmaster in the U.S. Army (1958-1960), he completed his MA in Music (1964) at Eastman School of Music, where he also earned his PhD in Music (1973) with a Ford Foundation Fellowship. While a graduate student, he taught music theory and African American Studies at Albany State College in Georgia and the University of Central Florida. After receiving his doctorate, he taught music at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst until his retirement in 1999. From 1973 to 1977, he directed the Voice of New Africa House Workshop Choir, a 50-voice student ensemble from the Five Colleges that toured along the East Coast and performed with leading African American musicians.

In a residency at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Boyer served as a curator of musical instruments (1985-1987) and simultaneously as the United Negro College Fund Distinguished Scholar-at-Large at Fisk University, directing the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers in 35 concerts. He also lectured at several institutions including Harvard, Yale, Temple, Howard, and Tuskegee universities. In 1999, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal as a Distinguished Faculty Lecturer at U Massachusetts at Amherst and in 1996, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by University of Colorado. 

Boyer wrote over 40 articles, several scholarly liner notes for gospel albums, contributed entries to many anthologies of music, and contributed 10 arrangements of spirituals to Lift Every Voice and Sing (1982), a supplemental Episcopal hymnal. 

Six chapters on classic Black gospel composers in We’ll Understand It Better By and By, ed. Bernice Johnson Reagon (1993) 

How Sweet the Sound:  The Golden Age of Gospel (1995)

Six chapters on classic Black gospel composers in We’ll Understand It Better By and By, ed. Bernice Johnson Reagon (1993) 

Phyllis M. May-Machunda

(coming soon)