Colour Of Genius, The

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TM20111014Ella Spira tells the story of a forgotten American genius, a flag-bearer for gender and racial equality whose career as pianist and composer was destroyed by prejudice and a mother who sculpted her life as a genetic experiment.|And what starts out as a simple story ends with an extraordinary and unanticipated connection between presenter and subject.|Philippa Schuyler's life should have been one of fame and reward.|Fêted by composer Leonard Bernstein, her work was performed by five leading American orchestras in her teens.|She was ranked alongside Aaron Copland, and is rumoured to be the subject of a forthcoming Hollywood movie starring Alicia Keys.|But in reality it was a deeply traumatic career, defined by her mixed race and the mother who viewed her as the product of a genetic experiment.|For Ella Spira she is a fascinating enigma, a kindred spirit as a woman in a man's world.|But can her talent ever be separated from the complexities which surrounded it, a life as a 'prodigy puppet' ruled by tarot cards and failed love affairs, and her bizarre death in a helicopter accident over Vietnam after recasting herself from black to white?|Contributions from Schuyler's biographer Kathryn Talalay and Grammy-winning conductor John McLaughlin Williams present a deeply complex figure.|No wonder - her parents were a controversial black journalist and a blue-eyed Texan who believed that 'the white race is spiritually depleted and American must mate with the Negro to save herself'.|Her childhood was a life of raw food, guided by the psychology of John Watson which forbade hugging and kissing, preferring whipping and slapping.|She was brought up as an emblem of mixed-race America, touted as a star pianist in the likes of 'Coloured American night at the Pops', but whose concert career was deemed impractical because of her skin colour.|A composition career followed, before a political career campaigning for African rights and against female circumcision, and then another diversion as a journalist in the Vietnam war.|Perhaps her life can never be completely decoded, but we get glimpses into her true personality in excerpts from her semi-fictional novels based on conflicts in the Congo and Vietnam, plus we hear the charm of her piano music rediscovered in his childhood piano stool by John McLaughlin Williams.|There are glimpses into her tragic love life too, leading Ella Spira down a road which ends up intersecting remarkably with her own family history.|Philippa's life turns out to be one ultimately of manipulation and tragedy, but one which holds a revealing mirror to the racial and sexual attitudes of the country which created and then damaged her.|Ella Spira tells the story of a forgotten prodigy, pianist and composer Philippa Schuyler.