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Philip Herbert

Composer, contralto, successful vocal coach, accompanist, and teacher. She was the youngest daughter of the famous African‐American actor Ira Aldridge, and born in Upper Norwood, London. Early on she was educated at a convent school in Belgium. At the age of 17 she was awarded a scholarship to study singing at the Royal College of Music. Her teachers included Jenny Lind and George Henschel for singing, along with Frederick Bridge and Frances Edward Gladstone for harmony and counterpoint.

Aldridge's career was successful and varied, as a contralto until an attack of laryngitis damaged her voice, an accompanist, vocal coach, and later a composer. She accompanied her brother Ira Frederick Aldridge on musical tours until his death in 1886. She also accompanied her sister Luranah in concerts at many well‐known London venues at the turn of the 20th century.

Aldridge also played a seminal ...


Luca Prono

lyric coloratura soprano, was the youngest of seven children born in Portsmouth, Ohio, to Grady Battle, a steelworker from Alabama who belonged to a gospel quartet, and Ollie Layne Battle. Together with her six older siblings, Kathleen Deanna Battle experienced the gospel music of her African Methodist Episcopal Church from a very early age. Battle studied at Portsmouth High School with Charles Varney and began piano lessons at the age of twelve.

She considered using her National Achievement Scholarship, which she was awarded in 1966, to study mathematics at the University of Cincinnati, but she graduated instead from the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music with a degree in music education in 1970 The following year Battle received a master s degree from the same institution After graduation Battle worked as a music teacher for fifth and sixth graders in a Cincinnati inner city school for two ...


Dominique-René de Lerma

baritone, was born Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe in Waco, Texas, the son of Henry L. Bledsoe and Jessie Cobb, occupations unknown. Following his parents' separation in 1899, Jules lived with his maternal grandmother, a midwife and nurse, who encouraged him to appreciate music. After graduating magna cum laude in 1918 from Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, Bledsoe began graduate medical studies at Columbia University, withdrawing after the death of his mother in 1920 to dedicate himself to singing. In 1924 he presented his debut recital at Aeolian Hall in New York.

Bledsoe's first major stage role was as Tizan in the racially mixed opera Deep River by Frank Harling and Laurence Stalling in 1926. That same year he performed in the premiere of Louis Gruenberg'sThe Creation (conducted by Serge Koussevitzky in New York and worked as an actor at the Provincetown Playhouse Bledsoe is best ...


William S. Walker

tenor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Bowers, a prominent member of Philadelphia's black elite and vestryman at St. Thomas's African Episcopal Church, and Henrietta Bowers (c. 1795–1868). Widowed in October 1844, his mother was a member of St. Thomas's congregation for more than fifty years. The 1860 federal census listed her occupation as cook. Bowers learned to play pianoforte and organ from his elder brother, John C. Bowers, and at the age of eighteen became organist at St. Thomas's. Although his parents encouraged their children's musical abilities at home and in church, they looked unfavorably on public performances of music. As a consequence, Bowers declined an offer to join the popular Philadelphia band led by Francis Johnson.

Despite his parents' objections, however, in 1854 Bowers made his first public performance as a vocalist at Sansom Street Hall in Philadelphia He ...


Aldrich W. Adkins

Thomas J. Bowers was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An outstanding young tenor in the mid-nineteenth century, he was compared favorably with the leading world tenors of that day. He was consistently called “Mario,” “the colored Mario,” “the American Mario,” or “the Indian Mario,” after the renowned Italian tenor Conte di Candia Mario.

Bowers's father was the warden of Saint Thomas's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where sacred music was sung as early as 1800. Bower's first music teacher was his pianist brother John, whom he succeeded as the organist at the church. His youngest sister, Sara Sedgwicke Bowers, also became a fine singer. Several bands, including the Frank Johnson Band, eagerly sought his services. It was his outstanding singing that won him public acclaim. His vocal training was received under the tutelage of internationally famous American soprano Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield popularly known as the Black Swan ...


Andre D. Vann

contralto concert singer, recording artist, and professor, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the youngest of four children born to the Reverend Dr. John Brice, a 1904 graduate of Knoxville College who served as a chaplain during World War I. He was a Congregationalist minister and served as vice president and religious director at Palmer Memorial Institute for thirty years, retiring in 1950. Her mother, Ella Hawkins, also of Knoxville College, was an educator and musician who taught history and pursued a career as a singer. She spent so much time on the road that Brice and her siblings were taken by her father when she was only eighteen months old to Sedalia, North Carolina, and placed in the custody of her first cousin, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown whom Brice called Aunt Dr Brown was the founder and president of Palmer Memorial Institute The institute was the ...


Elliott S. Hurwitt

mezzo-soprano, was born La Minto Cato in Little Rock, Arkansas. She attributed her unusual first name to a grandmother of French extraction. Her father, Roy Cato, was the son of a Native American father. There appears to be no connection between this Minto Cato and the English actor (1887–1960) who went by the same name. Although her immediate family included no professional musicians, an aunt sang and played piano. Cato attended the Washington Conservatory of Music following her studies at Armstrong High School. While still in her teens, she taught piano in the public schools of Monticello, Arkansas, and Athens, Georgia. In 1919 she established a music studio in Detroit, where her parents settled permanently in 1930.

Cato entered show business at Detroit's Temple Theater in 1922 with the B. F. Keith vaudeville circuit. For most of the 1920s she worked steadily with impresario Joe Sheftell ...


Paulette Coleman

operatic soprano and music educator, was born in Detroit, Michigan, into a musically prominent family. Her father, Thomas A. Cole, was a talented bass who was also known as a fine dramatic reader. Sadie (Chandler) Cole, her mother, was a mezzo-soprano who had studied at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and had toured with the famous Fisk Jubilee Singers. Cole's maternal grandmother, Mrs. Hatfield-Chandler, was a patron of the arts who sang soprano in Cincinnati's first African American choir. With such a rich musical heritage, it was predictable that Cole would begin piano lessons at a very early age. Her family relocated to Los Angeles in 1898. At age twelve Cole was accomplished enough to accompany her mother in recitals and in public concerts and to teach younger children piano basics.

While a student at Los Angeles High School where she studied ancient and modern languages ...


Tiffani Murray

opera singer, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the fifth of six daughters of John Wesley Dobbs, an activist for black equality often called the “Unofficial Mayor of Auburn Avenue,” and Irene Dobbs. When she was six years old, Dobbs performed her first solos, many of which were heard in Atlanta's First Congregational Church. Dobbs's parents bought a piano soon after they were married, and she learned to play when she was seven years old.

Education was important in the Dobbs household. Dobbs graduated from high school in 1942 and then attended Spelman College, where she majored in music and studied under the voice teachers Willis Laurence James and Naomi Maise. Dobbs graduated from Spelman in 1946 as valedictorian of her class. Dobbs augmented her bachelor's degree by earning a master's degree in Spanish at Columbia Teachers College.

After college Dobbs quickly began to build her career ...


Andrew M. Fearnley

musicologist, opera singer, and diplomat, was born Zelma Watson in Hearne, Texas, the daughter of Samuel Watson, a Baptist minister, and Lena Thomas, a domestic worker. Zelma's parents attached a great deal of importance to education. As the former principal of a boarding school, Samuel Watson instilled into each of his six children an understanding of the value of education; until sixth grade their mother taught all the Watson children at home. The Watsons were also keen musicians, and family music-making sessions were a staple of Zelma's early life. As the eldest of the children, Zelma clearly took note of both of her parents' pet projects and made scholarship and song central to her own life.

Due to her father s job as a preacher Zelma s early life was rather peripatetic At age five she moved to Palestine Texas and then to Dallas Texas at ...


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 ...


Wallace McClain Cheatham

pianist and vocal coach for opera, oratorio and concert, was born in Meridian, Mississippi. Sylvia's parents were graduates of Fisk University. Her mother, Sylvia Alice Ward Olden, was a successful concert artist. Her father, James Clarence Olden, was a minister and civil rights activist. In addition to studying theology at Fisk, James Clarence Olden studied classical singing and was a member of the university quartet with Roland Hayes, Charles Wesley, and Lemuel Foster. Lee's mother, who was very light-skinned and could pass for white, was offered an audition with the Metropolitan Opera shortly before her graduation from Fisk. Elizabeth Merry, one of Lee's grandmothers, was a Fisk Jubilee singer and one of the school's first graduates, in 1870.

Lee began piano lessons with her mother at age five and remained under her mother's tutelage for ten years. In 1933 at ...


Cheryl Black

singer, actress, and teacher, was born in New York City to an African American mother and German Jewish father. Her mother died during childbirth, and Mitchell moved to Baltimore, Maryland, with her maternal aunts, Alice and Josephine, and maternal grandmother. She attended St. Elizabeth's Convent, moving back to New York with her aunt Josephine when she was twelve to study music, a musical education that continued throughout her young adulthood. Her coaches included Harry Burleigh, Emilia Serrano, and Jean de Retzke.

Mitchell began her fifty-year career in the theater in 1898, singing in Clorindy, or the Origin of the Cakewalk, composed by Will Marion Cook and with lyrics by Paul Laurence Dunbar. This production marked the beginning of Mitchell's lifelong professional and personal relationship with Cook, whom she married in 1900 (Carter, 55). The couple had two children, Marion Abigail ...



Eric Gardner

singer, was probably born Marie Smith in Mississippi—most sources say Natchez—and may have been born into slavery. Little is known of her youth, and nothing is known of her parentage. The historian Eileen Southern suggested that Selika's family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her vocal talent attracted the patronage of a wealthy white family, who apparently paid for singing lessons.

At some point in the early 1870s Selika moved to San Francisco. There she studied with Giovanna Bianchi, an opera singer who, along with her husband, Eugene, gave private lessons. Selika made her debut in 1876, and the San Francisco composer Frederick G. Carnes wrote a piece titled “Selika: Grand Vocal Waltz of Magic” specifically for her a year later. The publication of this piece in 1877 suggests that she had already assumed the name under which she became famous She apparently took the name ...


Wallace McClain Cheatham

vocal recitalist, concert artist, and university professor, was born in West Helena, Arkansas, the eldest of five sons of Robert Warfield, a minister, and Bertha McCamery Warfield. Because employment and educational opportunities in West Helena were limited, the Reverend Warfield moved his family to Rochester, New York.

Warfield became interested in performing and teaching when he was a high school senior. With the pianist at his church Warfield began piano lessons at age nine. He also sang in school choral groups. When he was a senior in high school, the 1937–1938 school year, he entered and won the regional auditions of the National Music Educators League Competition. He was the only African American competitor. Winning at the district level entitled him to enter the national finals, held that year in St. Louis. He was then working with Elsa Miller his first voice teacher He ...


Wallace McClain Cheatham

opera singer and college professor, was born in Danville, Virginia, to Cornelius Booker Williams, a butler and chauffeur, and Fannie (Carey) Williams, a homemaker. Camilla's parents, both firm believers in education and church involvement, insisted that all four of their children (Camilla was the youngest) go to college and sing in the church choir. Alexander Carey, her maternal grandfather, was a singer and choir leader.

Preparing to be a teacher, Williams graduated with honors from Virginia State College, now Virginia State University, in 1941. One of Williams's professors at Virginia State College was the distinguished composer and pedagogue Undine Smith Moore. Moore's poignant composition “Watch and Pray” is dedicated to Williams. One of her schoolmates at Virginia State College, who graduated in 1942 was the renowned jazz musician Billy Taylor Taylor Williams Hall a student residence on the campus is named in their ...


Charles Rosenberg

the son of Aiken and Jane Bruce Williams. His year of birth has occasionally been recorded as 1861 or 1862.

Although various private genealogies identify his parents as being from markedly different family trees, some traced to South Carolina, an address left by Williams in the records of Yale University after graduation matches an 1880 census entry for Aiken and Jane Williams, both born in Georgia, as were their parents. Aiken Williams’s parents were George and Lucretia Williams, living in the same household at that time. Aiken Williams worked all his life as a teamster, and Jane Williams taught school. Although Williams’s Yale classmates believed his father had died before he went to college, census records show both his parents living into the early twentieth century. He had one sister, Lucretia, named for her paternal grandmother, about whom little else is known.

Historian Leroy Davis has identified Williams as ...