David Mannes


David Mannes (1866-1959) was an American violinist, educator, and activist. He was born in New York City, and studied the violin with composer and violinist John Thomas Douglass, the son of a freed slave. His musical upbringing led to the establishment of two music schools. In 1912, he helped found the Colored Music Settlement School, and later, in 1916, Mannes co-founded the Mannes School of Music with his wife and famous pianist Clara Mannes.

From 1917 until 1941, Mannes conducted free public concerts on Saturday evenings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A part of the performance group were members of the New York Symphony Orchestra (for which Mannes was concertmaster) and the New York Philharmonic. The concerts had eight cycles of performances that ranged from hundreds to thousands of people in attendance. These concerts were primarily financed by John D. Rockefeller, who became one of Mannes’ allies throughout his career. (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

As an advocate for racial equality, Mannes was highly agitated with the laws of segregation that prevented a racially diverse student population in music schools. Because black students were not allowed into most higher education institutions, Mannes created his own separate school–Colored Music Settlement School in New York City–which allowed African Americans students to receive a high quality music education. In his own words, the settlement was created “for talented black youngsters to obtain excellent musical training at nominal fees.”(Black Music Concerts in Carnegie Hall). During this time, the Colored Music Settlement performed concerts of all black music at Carnegie Hall. These concerts allowed blacks to be at the forefront of the music scene and attracted many music lovers to attend, regardless of race. The concerts were also very unique because the seats were not separated by color, as many theaters had done during that time. Among its directors were jazz pianist, composer and violinist David Irwin Martin, and composer and vocalist J. Rosamond Johnson.

David Mannes was active in the Mannes School of Music for more than forty years. In 1948, after Clara Mannes, the school’s administrator died, their son Leopold Mannes became the new president. He was able to finance the operations of the school from his fortune of co-creating Kodachrome film. In 1960, the music school merged with the Chatham Square Music School in lower Manhattan. It later had a choice to merge with the Manhattan School of Music, but decided to merge with the New School in 1989.  This merge was deemed necessary by the Dean of Mannes from 1979-1996, Dr. Charles Kaufman, who stated, “A small, highly specialized arts-education institution is becoming an anachronism in the academic and artistic community. Our students will have access to a menu of academic offerings, as well as what we believe will be increased performance opportunities at the Greenwich Village Location.” (New York Times).

In 1984, the school moved from its original home on East 70th street to West 85th Street and, in 2015, to 55 W. 13th Street to join the primary location of the New School. When Mannes merged with the New School, the conservatory approach expanded as students were part of a larger university for the first time. Although Mannes is not the first conservatory to merge with a university, Mannes became one of the leading conservatories in 20th and 21st century music due to the New School’s rich contemporary background.


Hevesi, Dennis. "Mannes College Joins the New School." New York Times. 9 Feb 1989. The Black Perspective in Music, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring, 1978), pp. 71-88 Lindsey, Rebecca. "David Mannes and the Great Hall Concerts. " Metropolitan Museum of Art. 22 April 2014.