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Black History and Culture from the UMass Lowell Archives

Kay George Roberts

“From the moment she strides on stage, it is clear that this woman is in command. Her physical striking. Her hand movements are precise and her facial expressions compelling.

—Susan Bulba 1 


Kay George Roberts (b. September 16, 1950, Nashville, TN) Training: B.A., Fisk University (Major: Music), M.M., Yale University (Major: Conducting and Violin Performance); M.M.A., Yale University (Major: Conducting); D.M.A., Yale University (Major: Conducting) 


Kay George Roberts is Professor Emerita of the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Music Department and Founding Director of the UMass Lowell String Project. Roberts began her musical career as a violin player in Nashville, Tennessee when the local schools were still segregated. During high school, the local schools were desegregated, and she was able to join the Nashville Youth Symphony. Her professional debut was with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, while she was still a senior in high school. Roberts became the first woman, and the second black conductor to receive a Doctorate in Orchestral Conducting from Yale University. She has since lead orchestras as conductor and guest conductor around the world while teaching at the UMass Lowell Music Department and advocating for the importance of music education. Roberts earned many awards throughout her career, including the 2007 University of Massachusetts President’s Public Service Award in recognition of exemplary public service to the Commonwealth. 

"As pioneers go, [Davy] Crockett and [Daniel] Boone have nothing on Kay George Roberts. She hasn't exactly tamed the wilderness, but she has brought a new look to a profession that traditionally began and ended with white European men." Alan Bostick 2 


1. Susan Bulba, "Symphony Makes Strong Start," Daily Times (Gloucester, NH), October 29, 1986, 5. 
2. Alan Bostick, "Breaking the Sound Barrier: The Woman Behind the Baton," Tennessean (Nashville, TN), July 7, 1991, 2J. 
"Conductor Kay George Roberts." Motion picture. Ten O'Clock News, April 21, 1989. Digital Commonwealth, (accessed February 01, 2023). Conductor Kay George Roberts - Boston TV News Digital Library ( 
Ronnie Wooten. “Women of Color in the Conducting Profession: Where Are They?” Black History Bulletin 80, no. 1 (2017): 15–24.