Childhood & Early Life
Edmond Dédé was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1827. His parents had moved into the States in 1809 from the French West Indies. His father played for the militia unit as bandmaster. His first inclination was towards playing the clarinet but soon he realized his true calling was violin and proved his talent so well that he came to be known as the child prodigy in violin. He was taught violin by Constantin Debergue, a local free black violinist and director of the local Philharmonic Society founded by free Creoles of color. Later, he also studied under Italian-born artist Ludovico Gabici, the director of the St. Charles Theater Orchestra. Dédé is also touted as one of the earliest publishers of music in the city. To strengthen his musical talent, he took theory classes from French-born Eugène Prévost, winner of the 1831 Prix de Rome and conductor of the orchestra at the Théâtre d'Orléans, to study counterpoint and harmony. He also took classes from New York-born black musician Charles-Richard Lambert, the father of Sidney and Charles Lucien Lambert and a conductor of the Philharmonic Society. He had a short stint of lessons with Ludovico Gabici but due to the hostile conditions prevalent, he fled to Mexico. Later, Dédé returned and began working as a cigar maker to collect money to move back to Europe.
In 1852, he composed what became the oldest surviving piece of sheet music by a New Orleans Creole of color, “Mon pauvre Coeur”. With the money he earned and with help from his friends, he travelled first to Belgium and then to France. There he auditioned for the Paris Conservatoire de Musique (Paris Conservatory of Music) which he passed in 1857. It was here that he befriended one of the teachers at the conservatory, the celebrated Jacques-François Halevy with whom his friendship deepened, forming a long lasting relationship between them. He was also taught by famous French violinist and teacher Jean Delphin Alard. Once he finished his studies he settled in Bordeaux, France.
Dédé met and fell in love with a French woman, Sylvie Leflet, who was the daughter of a local bourgeois. The couple got married in 1864 and in 1865 their son Eugene Arcade Dédé was born who went on to become a classical music composer. Eugene's ‘Mazurka En chasse’ was orchestrated by his father. He later succeeded Dédé as an instrumentalist and composer.
Dédé’s career spanned long as he spent 27 years in the capacity of Orchestra Conductor at the Theatre l'Alcazar. During this time, he indulged in conducting light music performances at the Folies Bordelaises. In 1865, he composed his most famous composition ‘Quasimodo Symphony’ which was first performed by an African-American conductor and musician Samuel Snaer Jr. on May 10, 1865 in the New Orleans Theater. Dédé continued to compose more music like ‘Le Palmier Overture’ and ‘Le Sermente de L'Arabe’. In 1893, he visited New Orleans for the last time in the steamer Marseille which was almost destroyed in a shipwreck at sea. Although Dédé survived, he lost his favorite Cremona violin at sea. However, despite his obvious devastations, he continued his performances with a new instrument and this was highly applauded. Dédé then bade his farewell to his city with his song ‘Patriotisme’ in which he sang how he laments his destiny to live far away because of "implacable prejudice" at homeland. He was then offered an honorary membership in the Société des Jeunes-Amis, an important local social group composed mostly of Creoles of color. But racial differences and his family’s settlement in France, made him refuse the offer. He then returned to France to take up a full membership of the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers in 1894.
Dédé’s compositions range from operetta and ballet to chamber music and popular songs. There was a lot of different influence on his music like his American upbringing, his French tuition and his conduction of the French repertoire. His style can be termed as the traditional mid-19th century with a practiced orchestra use.
- Chicago (Grande valse a l'Americaine), 1892
- Tond les chiens, coup' les chats (Duo burlesque)
- Mirliton fin de siècle (Polka originale), 1892
- Rêverie champêtre, 1891
- En chasse, mazurka elegante
- Mephisto masque, Polka fantastique, for piano, 1889
- Battez aux champs, for voice & piano (Cantata dediee a S. M. l'Empereur Napoleon III)
- El Pronunciamento, marche espagnole for orchestra
- Patriotisme, for voice & piano, 1893
- Cora La Bordelaise, chansonnette for voice & piano, 1881
- Mon pauvre coeur, for voice & piano,1852
- Mon Sous Off!, chansonnette for voice & piano, 1876
- Francoise et Tortillard, Saynete comique
- Mon Sous Off!cier, Quadrille brilliante, 1877
- Symphony Quasimodo, 1865
Edmond Dédé died in Paris 1903. Most of his compositions have been preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.