Léopold Sédar Senghor

(1906 - 2001)

Biography of Léopold Sédar Senghor

Léopold Sédar Senghor (9 October 1906 – 20 December 2001) was a Senegalese poet, politician, and cultural theorist who for two decades served as the first president of Senegal (1960–80). Senghor was the first African elected as a member of the Académie française. Before independence, he founded the political party called the Senegalese Democratic Bloc. He is regarded by many as one of the most important African intellectuals of the 20th century.

Senghor's first marriage was to Ginette Eboue. His second wife, Colette Hubert, who was from France, became Senegal's first First Lady upon independence in 1960. Senghor had three sons between his two marriages.

Léopold Sédar Senghor was born on 9 October 1906 in the city of Joal, some one hundred ten kilometres south of Dakar. Basile Diogoye Senghor (pronounced: Basile Jogoy Senghor), Sedar Senghor's father, was a businessman belonging to the bourgeois Serer tribe. Gnilane Ndiémé Bakhou (?–1948), Léopold Sédar Senghor's mother, and the third wife of his father, was a Muslim of Fula origin, belonging to the Tabor tribe. She gave birth to six children, including two sons. His Serer middle name Sédar comes from the Serer language, meaning "one that shall not be humiliated" or "the one you cannot humiliate". His surname Senghor is a combination of the Serer words Sène (a Serer surname and the name of the Supreme Deity in Serer religion called Rog Sene) and gor or ghor, the etymology of which is kor in Serer language meaning male or man. Tukura Badiar Senghor, the prince of Sine and a figure from whom Léopold Sédar Senghor has been reported to trace descent, was a c. 13th-century Serer noble.

At the age of eight Senghor began his studies in Senegal in the Ngasobil boarding school of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit. In 1922 he entered a seminary in Dakar. After being told the religious life was not for him, he attended a secular institution. By then, he was already passionate about French literature. He won distinctions in French, Latin, Greek and Algebra. With his Baccalaureate completed, he was awarded a scholarship to continue his studies in France.

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To New York

(for jazz orchestra and trumpet solo)

New York! At first I was bewildered by your beauty,
Those huge, long-legged, golden girls.
So shy, at first, before your blue metallic eyes and icy smile,
So shy. And full of despair at the end of skyscraper streets
Raising my owl eyes at the eclipse of the sun.
Your light is sulphurous against the pale towers
Whose heads strike lightning into the sky,

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