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Robert Fay

Anderson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the first of three daughters of John Berkeley Anderson, an ice and coal peddler, and Anna D. Anderson, who, although trained as a teacher, took in laundry. Throughout her childhood, Anderson's family was poor. Their financial situation worsened when she was twelve. Her father died because of injuries he received at work. Anderson had an urge to make music from an early age, and she was clearly talented. When she was six years old, she joined the junior choir at the church to which her father belonged, Union Baptist, and became known as the “Baby Contralto.” In addition, she taught herself to play the piano, eventually playing well enough to accompany herself during her singing concerts.

Anderson joined the church s senior choir at age thirteen She began singing professionally and touring during high school to earn money for ...


Antoinette Handy

contralto, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Berkeley Anderson, a refrigerator room employee at the Reading Terminal Market, an ice and coal dealer, and a barber, and Anne (also seen as “Annie” and “Anna,” maiden name unknown), a former schoolteacher. John Anderson's various jobs provided only a meager income and after his death before Marian was a teenager her mother s income as a laundress and laborer at Wanamaker s Department Store was even less Still as Anderson later recalled neither she nor her two younger sisters thought of themselves as poor When Marian was about eight her father purchased a piano from his brother she proceeded to teach herself how to play it and became good enough to accompany herself Also as a youngster having seen a violin in a pawnshop window she became determined to purchase it and earned the requisite four dollars by ...


Mildred Denby Green

When Marian Anderson was just eight years old, her aunt presented her at a fund-raising church program as the “Baby Contralto.” Two years earlier, Anderson had joined the junior choir at the Union Baptist Church in Philadelphia. More than anything else, she loved to sing. Music and musical instruments fascinated her at home and in school.


Susan Edwards

opera singer. Marian Anderson was born on 27 February 1897 in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the first of three daughters born to Anna and John Anderson. Nicknamed the “baby contralto” for her lush, deep voice when she sang in local churches as a child, Anderson fought hard to foster her career in Europe and the United States, and in the process she became an advocate for civil rights in the United States.

When Anderson was twelve years old her father died from a head injury sustained while working at Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market. He was thirty-four years old, and his death left his widow, Anna with three young daughters to raise They moved in with Marian s paternal grandparents Anna had been a teacher before she married Marian s father but she was not credentialed in Pennsylvania To keep her family together Anna took in laundry and worked ...


singer and teacher, known as the “Black Swan,” was born a slave in or near Natchez, Mississippi. Her father may have been born in Africa, and her mother, Anna, was of mixed ancestry. Various sources offer no fewer than seven different birth dates between 1807 and 1824. Greenfield's use of “Taylor” rather than “Greenfield” in certain documents suggests that her parents used this surname, but little record of them survives.

When their owner, the wealthy widow Elizabeth Holliday Greenfield, joined the Society of Friends and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1820s, Greenfield's parents were manumitted and immigrated to Liberia. Though records suggest her mother planned to return, Greenfield never saw her parents again. She lived with her mistress until she was about eight years old and then rejoined her as a nurse-companion in about 1836 she seems to have lived with relatives in the ...


Kathleen Thompson

At a time when most African American women were enslaved and working under unbearable conditions on the plantations of the South, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was appearing on concert stages around the country and traveling to England, giving a command performance for Queen Victoria. She was accomplished, intelligent, and ambitious, and became the best-known black concert singer of her time.

Greenfield was born about 1817 in Natchez, Mississippi, to a family named Taylor, who were slaves on the estate of Mrs. Elizabeth Holliday Greenfield. When Elizabeth was only a year old, Mrs. Greenfield, acting on her beliefs as a Quaker, manumitted the child’s parents and sent them to Liberia; she took Elizabeth with her to Philadelphia. The child stayed with Mrs. Greenfield until she was eight, and then went to live with her own sister, Mary Parker When she was in her late teens she went back to ...


Ann T. Keene

singer, was born in Curryville, Georgia, the son of William Hayes and Fanny (maiden name unknown), tenant farmers and former slaves. Young Roland worked as a field hand from an early age alongside his mother and two brothers. William Hayes had become an invalid following an accident when Roland was an infant, and he died when Roland was twelve. Although neither parent could read or write, Fanny Hayes was determined that her children would get an education However Roland was able to attend local country schools which were inferior and segregated for only a few months at a time when he was not needed in the fields At the age of fifteen he and his family moved to Chattanooga Tennessee as part of his mother s plan to have her sons educated The three boys were to alternate school and work a year at a time with one ...


Marta J. Effinger-Crichlow

classical prima donna and musical comedy performer, was born Matilda Sissieretta Joyner in Portsmouth, Virginia, less than four years after the abolition of slavery. Jones was the only surviving child of Jeremiah Malachi Joyner, a former slave and pastor of the Afro-Methodist Church in Portsmouth, and Henrietta B. Joyner, a singer in the church choir. Thus, she was exposed to music during her formative years. When she was six years old her family moved to Rhode Island, where Jones began singing in the church choir, which her father directed. Her school classmates were mesmerized by her sweet, melodic, soprano voice and nicknamed her “Sissy.”

She began studying voice as a teenager at the prestigious Providence Academy of Music with Ada, Baroness Lacombe, an Italian prima donna. Not long afterward, in 1883, when she was only fourteen, Sissieretta met and married David Richard Jones a newspaperman ...


Diane Epstein

Discovering Sissieretta Jones is like uncovering a buried treasure. In the twenty-first century, her name may not be a household word, but she was a well-known and respected performer in her time.

Jones was born Matilda Sissieretta Joyner in 1869 in Portsmouth, Virginia, in a middle-class environment. Her father, Malachi Joyner, was a Baptist minister. Her mother, Henrietta Beale Joyner sang in the church choir and is said to have had a wonderful soprano voice This appears to be where young Sissieretta inherited her own naturally beautiful voice It was obvious by the time she was five years old that she had a gift and her family was instrumental in promoting her talent To give her a chance for formal music study the family moved from Virginia to Providence Rhode Island She now could study classical voice at Providence Academy of Music From the Providence Academy Jones ...


Abdul Karim Bangura

Paul Leroy Bastill Robeson’s character and worldview were the products of a complex mix of forces at a time when segregation was legal in the United States and blacks were being lynched by white mobs especially in the South It is within this historical context that Robeson was able to forge a revolutionary ethic from a religion that allows African influences through musical creativity that did not divorce the sacred from the secular Although he spent eight years in segregated elementary schools during his high school days Robeson had positive encounters with whites with the exception of a racist principal who hated him because of his outstanding scholarly and athletic qualities Consequently Robeson perceived whites on balance as individuals but he also realized that most of them did not welcome competition from blacks Because his father insisted on personal integrity which included the idea of maximum human fulfillment throughout ...


James Sellman

Paul Robeson was one of the most gifted men of the twentieth century. His resonant bass and commanding presence made him a world-renowned singer and actor and proved equally valuable when he spoke out against bigotry and injustice. By the 1930s Robeson was active in a wide range of causes, but his radicalism led to a long period of political harassment that culminated in his blacklisting during anti-Communist campaigns in the 1950s. Although he resumed performing in the late 1950s, his return to public life was brief. In the 1960s serious health problems sidelined him for good.


Larry R. Gerlach

actor, singer, and civil rights activist, was born Paul Leroy Robeson in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of William Drew Robeson, a Protestant minister, and Maria Louisa Bustill, a schoolteacher. Robeson's mother died when he was six years old, and he grew up under the influence of a perfectionist father, a former runaway slave who fought in the Union army. During his senior year at the Somerville, New Jersey, high school, he achieved the highest score in a statewide scholarship examination to attend Rutgers College (later Rutgers University). The lone black at Rutgers as a freshman in 1915 and only the third African American to attend the institution Robeson was an outstanding student and athlete A varsity debater he won class prizes for oratory all four years was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior was one of four seniors chosen for membership ...


Paul Finkelman

athlete, actor, singer, civil rights activist, and Communist sympathizer. Paul Leroy Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, the youngest of five children. In 2004 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp for Paul Robeson. The press release issued by the Post Office recounted his career as an All-American college athlete, a film star, and an internationally acclaimed singer. The release also noted his fearless opposition to racism, describing him as

well known as an activist and an outspoken participant in labor and peace movements [whose] public appearances were infused with his strong political beliefs, especially his principled stand against racism in the U.S. and around the world. He was opposed to colonialism in Africa and worked to assist and support African liberation Movements. Alarmed by the spread of fascism in Europe, Robeson was also a prominent supporter of the Allied war effort during World War II.

The ...