Henry (Harry) Thacker Burleigh (Dec. 2, 1866-Sept. 12, 1949) was one of the many notable African American celebrities who stayed at the famed Shearer Cottage in Oak Bluffs. He was a singer and the first black composer instrumental in the development of American music. He helped make black music available to classically-trained artists by introducing them to the music and by arranging it in a classical form. An article about Czech composer Antonin Dvorák (Sept. 8, 1841 – May 1, 1904) in the Sunday New York Times of Nov. 17, 2002 highlighted Burleigh’s relationship with Dvorák, who he introduced to African American folk music in 1892 and 1893. It is claimed that the first time a Negro song became a major theme in a great symphonic work was in Dvorák’s New World Symphony. Dvorák was the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York where Burleigh became a musical assistant and was appointed as a teacher of voice. Antonin Dvorák proposed the concept that African American and Native American music should be used as a foundation for the growth of American music. Burleigh published Negro spirituals such as Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen and Deep River, and became known for his arrangements that helped make spirituals a popular genre for concert singers, including Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson — another Shearer Cottage visitor when he came to the Island and stayed in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Robeson, ironically, popularized the role of Shakespeare’s Othello and Dvorák composed the Othello Overture Opus 9. There obviously was no irony that the Highlands Eliot Park impresario, the late Liz White, produced the play Othello at Twin Cottage in 1962 and at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in 1979. She invested another 20 years in making the production into a movie that aired for the first time at Union Chapel this past summer, courtesy of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Harry T. Burleigh wrote over 200 works, folk and spiritual, choral works, solo songs and violin and piano music. The album, Nobody Knows: Songs of Harry T. Burleigh, debuted at number two on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Album Chart upon its 2008 release. Burleigh’s legacy is the spiritual, making him one of the great contributors in shaping American music.

“Keep on lookin’ fo’ de bright, bright skies/ Keep on hopin’ dat de sun’ll rise/ Keep on singin’ when de whole world sighs/ An’ you’ll git dar in de mornin’!/ Keep on plowin’ when you’ve miss’d de crops/ Keep on dancin’ when de fiddle stops/ Keep on faithful till de curtain drops/ An’ you’ll git dar in de mornin’.” That song, You’ll Git Dar in De Mornin with music by Henry Thacker Burleigh and words by Frank Lebby Stanton is perfect for these often dreary December days.

Today from 2 to 4 p.m. there’s an open house at the library presented by the Library Friends of Oak Bluffs featuring crafts, food, music and a kids’ grab bag. Santa arrives at 3 p.m.

The Media Voices for Children’s Holiday Ball is at Dreamland this evening, a fundraiser on behalf of poor Kenyan children the group plans to support through the production of documentaries, advocacy and education. The Sultans of Swing perform with Erika Van Pelt, a recent American Idol performer and finalist. Admission is $10 at the door starting at 8:30 p.m.

A reminder that Nelia and Amy are hosting Mother Goose on The Loose story time for children from newborn to three years old at the Oak Bluffs Library next Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

A big shout to Oak Bluffs postmaster Paul Leonard during his busiest time of the year for alerting me to the photo exhibit of old Oak Bluffs scenes at the hospital; fabulous shots indeed. Thanks, Paul!

The Island day starts in Oak Bluffs with the sun rising out of Nantucket Sound at the Pay Beach — and later, gracefully ends with cold starry nights with the moon rising behind the bandstand from the water at the Inkwell, just over Shark Rock at the end of the jetty on the right. I like to think this is the only place in the world where that happens, because for all of us, it is. The sun rose today at 7:01 a.m. and the moon rises this evening at 8:03 p.m. I hope you’re having a great 12 hours in between.

Santa’s here in two weeks; have you been naughty or nice? Or nicely naughty? A partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds, five golden rings, six geese a-laying . . .

Keep your foot on a rock.