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Philippa Duke Schuyler (//; August 2, 1931 – May 9, 1967) was a noted American child prodigy and pianist who became famous in the 1930s and 1940s as a result of her talent, mixed-race parentage, and the eccentric methods employed by her mother to bring her up.
Schuyler was the daughter of George S. Schuyler, a prominent black essayist and journalist Josephine Cogdell, a white Texan and one-time Mack Sennett bathing beauty, from a former slave-owning family. Her parents believed that intermarriage could "invigorate" both races and produce extraordinary offspring. They also advocated that mixed-race marriage could help to solve many of the United States's social problems.
Cogdell further believed that genius could best be developed by a diet consisting exclusively of raw foods. As a result, Philippa grew up in her New York City apartment eating a diet predominantly comprising raw carrots, peas and yams and raw steak. She was given a daily ration of cod liver oil and lemon slices in place of sweets. "When we travel," Cogdell said, "Philippa and I amaze waiters. You have to argue with most waiters before they will bring you raw meat. I guess it is rather unusual to see a little girl eating a raw steak."
Recognized as a prodigy at an early age, Schuyler was reportedly able to read and write at the age of two and a half, and composed music from the age of five. At nine, she became the subject of "Evening With A Gifted Child", a profile written by Joseph Mitchell, correspondent for The New Yorker, who heard several of her early compositions and noted that she addressed both her parents by their first names.
Schuyler began giving piano recitals and radio broadcasts while still a child and attracted significant press coverage. New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia was one of her admirers and visited her at her home on more than one occasion. By the time she reached adolescence, Schuyler was touring constantly, both in the US and overseas.
Her talent as a pianist was widely acknowledged, although many critics believed that her forte lay in playing vigorous pieces and criticised her style when tackling more nuanced works. Acclaim for her performances led to her becoming a role model for many children in the United States of the 1930s and 1940s, but Schuyler's own childhood was blighted when, during her teenage years, her parents showed her the scrapbooks they had compiled recording her life and career. The books contained numerous newspaper clippings in which both George and Josephine Schuyler commented on their beliefs and ambitions for their daughter. Realisation that she had been conceived and raised, in a sense, as an experiment, robbed the pianist of many of the illusions that had made her earlier youth a happy one.
In later life, Schuyler grew disillusioned with the racial and gender prejudice she encountered, particularly when performing in the United States, and much of her musical career was spent playing overseas. In her thirties she abandoned the piano to follow her father into journalism.
Schuyler's personal life was frequently unhappy. She rejected many of her parents' values, increasingly becoming a vocal feminist, and made many attempts to pass herself off as a woman of Iberian (Spanish) descent named Filipa Monterro. Although she engaged in a number of affairs, and on one occasion endured a late and dangerous abortion after a relationship with a Ghanaian diplomat, she never married.
In 1967 Schuyler traveled to Vietnam as a war correspondent. During a helicopter mission near Da Nang to evacuate a number of Vietnamese orphans, the helicopter crashed into the sea. While she initially survived the crash, her inability to swim caused her to drown. A court of enquiry found that the pilot had deliberately cut his motor and descended in an uncontrolled glide – possibly in an attempt to give his civilian passengers an insight into the dangers of flying in a combat zone – eventually losing control of the aircraft.
Her mother was profoundly affected by her daughter's death and committed suicide on its second anniversary.
Philippa Schuyler Middle School for the Gifted and Talented in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York is dedicated to preserving the memory of the child prodigy by offering an arts-focused education to New York City children.