Vicente Lusitano, Black composer?

There has been significant press in recent years about the 16th-century Portuguese composer Vicente Lusitano and his supposed Black ancestry. Music by Black Composers understands the excitement about such a possibility, but also chooses to keep in perspective the facts and evidence.

There is no known documentation dating from Lusitano’s lifetime that describes his ethnicity. There is only a source from a century later that refers to him as “pardo” (Portuguese for “mixed race”). This information has not been otherwise confirmed, and it is also not clear whether someone described as “pardo” would necessarily have Black (sub-Saharan African) heritage, or may have instead been of North African heritage (another group of people with significant presence in Portugal at the time of Lusitano’s birth).

We therefore do not list Lusitano in our materials because his ethnicity is necessarily speculative until more conclusive evidence can be found.

**If you are a scholar, or have access to scholarship that clears up this speculation, please let us know at!


EMA – Composer in the news: Vicente Lusitano, ahead of his time and ready for rediscovery

BBC – The great 16th-Century black composer erased from history

VAN Magazine – Centuries of Silence: Vicente Lusitano and classical music’s selective memory