Julius grew up in Ithaca New York where he worked in his teen years as a chorister, having been gifted with a wonderful voice, and he studied piano. He began his college studies at Ithaca College for a year before transferring to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied piano and composition. He then moved to Buffalo where he performed in choral groups and the music of contemporary composers before moving to New York City where he worked with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and in various jazz groups.
It was while living in New York City that Julius composed some of his most memorable and most admired works. Yet he never achieved the fame that his peers attained. In a piece on Julius Eastman’s life aired by NPR it was noted:
“But even for classical music devotees, Eastman was easy to miss — never as famous as the likes of Reich and Glass. As for reasons why, there are a lot of good guesses. He was black. He was gay. And the titles of his pieces were often provocative — darkly funny on one hand, Clayton says, but also deeply angry.”
All of those observations could (and most likely does) explain why Julius Eastman never achieved the recognition of other post-modern composers of his time. He was indeed a fiercely openly SGL (same-gender-loving) black man trying to make a mark in a profession that has shown to be in the past less than accepting to both aspects of identity. It didn’t help Julius that in addition to more acceptable titles like ‘The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc’ and ‘The Moon’s Silent Modulation’ he used such titles as ‘Crazy Nigger’ and ‘Gay Guerilla’ as the titles of some of his works which most likely added to the chagrin of those devotees of a music that was considered ‘intellectual’ and in some ways ‘genteel’, but his lack of recognition was surely not because of a lack talent.
Julius Eastman died at the age of forty-nine, homeless (it’s said he was living in New York’s Tompkin Park at the time of his death) and addicted to alcohol and drugs. It’s said that he had always been fiercely flagrant in his approach to life, and described by some as being ‘angry’, though we would have to wonder if he had been a middle class white composer would his ‘anger’ been respected as ‘temperamental’. Even so, he was a man of great talent whose music is now being reproduced in concert halls and recordings some twenty-three years after his death. (Youtube List of Julius Eastman's works: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEATdpIJn3I
(There are more profiles of historical black Gay/SGL-T figures at http://www.dougcooperspencer.com/celebrating-black-gay-sglt-history.html)