Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born on August 15, 1875 in Holborn, England (a suburb of London). His father, Daniel Hughes Taylor, was a native of Sierra Leone, and his mother was English. Daniel Taylor came to England to study medicine. He was a student at Taunton College, Somerset and later at Kings College in London. His work led him to become a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and to obtain a license from the Royal College of Physicians. His father was not a part of Coleridge-Taylor’s life, returning to Sierra Leone either before Samuel’s birth or while he was a very young boy.
As a child Coleridge-Taylor studied violin and sang in the choir of St. George’s Church, Croydon. At the age of fifteen he was admitted by Sir George Grove to the Royal College of Music as a violin student. While at the Royal College his interest in composition grew. With the support of Colonel Herbert Walters, one of his first benefactors, and Grove, arrangements were made that Coleridge-Taylor would study composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. While studying with Stanford, Coleridge-Taylor competed for one of the nine open scholarships at the college and was awarded the fellowship in composition (1893). At that time Grove wrote, „Now you are a scholar…you are now before the world…“
Some of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s greatest works date from these early years. His most famous work is perhaps the trilogy based upon the poems of the Cambridge, Massachusetts native, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (1898) is the first of these three works and the one that is often seen as Coleridge-Taylor’s crowning achievement. During Coleridge-Taylor’s lifetime it had a popularity in England equaled only by Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.