The Grant Hagan Society is named after two pioneering African-American women musicians who were among the first known African-Americans to obtain degrees in music at Yale: Effie Ella Grant (1885?–1983), who attended the Yale School of Music from 1906 to 1909, and Helen Eugenia Hagan (1891–1964), who graduated in 1912.
Grant was a successful vocalist, winning the Lockwood Scholarship for Singing. Yet, for reasons that remain elusive, she was never awarded a degree despite having completed the usual three years of study toward the Bachelor of Music degree. Grant eventually taught at Western University in Quidaro, Kansas, a prominent black music school in the Midwest, and later became involved in the activities of the black YWCA in Columbus, Ohio. Her husband, Arthur W. Hardy, was the executive secretary of the latter organization.
Hagan, a pianist, is thought to have been the first female African-American graduate of the Yale School of Music. She may have been disabled as well, given that a contemporaneous article by William Pickens speaks of her as “handicapped.” Hagan was also a composer of considerable talent, writing virtuosic music for the piano that was heavily influenced by Chopin and Liszt. Sadly, however, only one of her works remains, the Piano Concerto in C Minor (1912).
After her graduation from Yale, Hagan was soon sent to France to entertain black troops stationed there after the First World War—the only black performer to do so. She also holds the honor of being the first African-American pianist to give a recital at a concert venue in New York. Hagan later taught at Chicago’s Mendelssohn Conservatory of Music, and received a Master’s Degree from Teacher’s College at Columbia University. At Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, she served as Dean of Music, and also held positions as a choir director and church organist. She passed away in 1964 and was buried in an unmarked grave in New Haven’s Evergreen Cemetery. In September 2016, the Yale School of Music paid homage to Hagan by placing a headstone on her grave and holding a memorial ceremony. She was also the subject of a recent Music Library exhibition on women musicians at Yale.
The Grant Hagan Society was founded in the fall of 2019, and is indebted to the models of the Southern Pian Society (Harvard University) and the Yale Music Gender Equity Initiative.