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Lois Bellamy

composer, educator, choral conductor, music professor, singer, and author, was born to Dr. Daniel Webster Boatner, former slave, and Sophie Stuart, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Daniel Webster Boatner was born in South Carolina and was nine years old when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 Edward Boatner s grandmother was a slave who was determined that her son Daniel would receive a good education She worked very hard scrubbing floors washing cooking and nursing children of wealthy whites to send him to school Dr Boatner attended Fisk University in Nashville Tennessee and graduated from New Orleans University where he received his bachelor s and master s degrees After earning his doctorate from Gammon Theological Seminary at Atlanta Georgia he served on the faculty of Philander Smith College a Methodist School in Little Rock Arkansas where he taught Hebrew ...

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Doris Evans McGinty

singer and educator, was born in Dryridge, Kentucky, the daughter of Alexander Childers and Eliza Butler, former slaves. She studied voice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and in 1896 was awarded a diploma that was replaced by a bachelor's degree in 1906, when the conservatory began granting degrees. The Oberlin Conservatory chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, a national honor society, elected her a member in 1927. She studied voice further with Sydney Lloyd Wrightson at the Washington Conservatory of Music in Washington, D.C., with William Shakespeare, and with Oscar Devries at Chicago Musical College.

As a singer Childers enjoyed modest distinction. During her college years and shortly afterward, she performed in the Midwest with the Eckstein-Norton Music Company, a quartet of singers and their accompanist teamed with the concert pianist Harriet A. Gibbs The group contributed their earnings to the development of ...

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Charles Johnson

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 21, 1840, Christian Fleetwood was the son of Charles and Anna Maria Fleetwood, who were both free blacks. Fleetwood received his early education in the home of wealthy sugar merchant John C. Brunes and his wife, the latter treating him like her son. He continued his education in the office of the secretary of the Maryland Colonization Society, went briefly to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and graduated in 1860 from Ashmun Institute (later Lincoln University) in Pennsylvania. He and others briefly published, in Baltimore, the Lyceum Observer, which was said to be the first black newspaper in the upper South. After the Civil War (1861–1865) disrupted trade with Liberia, he enlisted in the Union Army.

Fleetwood enlisted as a sergeant in Company G, Fourth Regiment, United States Colored Volunteer Infantry, on August 11, 1863 He ...

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Michael Frank Knight

, clerk, editor, Civil War veteran, and recipient of the Medal of Honor, was born to Charles and Anna Marie Fleetwood, free people in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1863 Christian left a lucrative position as a clerk in the Brune shipping and trading empire and joined the Fourth United States Colored Troops as a private. Just over a year later Fleetwood received the Medal of Honor for bravery and coolness under fire at the Battle of New Market Heights (Chaffin's Farm), 29 and 30 September 1864. He was one of only sixteen African American soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

Christian Fleetwood's remarkable story begins in the home of the prominent Baltimore businessman John C. Brune Fleetwood s father served for a long time as the majordomo in the Brune household and it was there that Christian received his early education in reading ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

preacher, was born Clarence LaVaughn Pitman in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Elijah J. Pitman and Willie Ann Pitman, sharecroppers. Elijah served in Europe during World War I, returned to Mississippi briefly, and then departed. Shortly thereafter, Willie Ann married Henry Franklin, a farmer; the family took his name, and Franklin became Clarence's father. As a boy Clarence usually went to school from December to March, which was when he was not needed in the field. His mother took him and his stepsister, Aretha, to St. Peter's Rock Baptist Church, where he sang in the choir, and eventually became lead tenor. His father, religious but not a churchgoer, exposed Clarence to the blues idiom of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other soulful musicians.

At the age of nine or ten Clarence attended a revival meeting and took his first step toward a career in the ministry when he joined the ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

singer, musician, educator, and advocate for African American music and musicians, was born Emma Azalia Smith in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Henry Smith, a blacksmith and native of Murfreesboro, and Corilla Beard, the daughter of Wilson Beard, an escaped slave who began a profitable laundry business after fleeing to Detroit. Following the birth of Azalia, as she was called, Corilla Smith opened a school in Murfreesboro for newly freed slave children. In 1870, just after the birth of Azalia's sister Marietta increasing hostility from local whites forced Corilla Smith to close the school The family moved to Detroit Michigan where Henry Smith opened a curio shop and Corilla Smith taught school In the early 1880s the couple separated and Corilla raised her daughters on wages earned by private tutoring In Detroit the Smiths were the first black family in their neighborhood and ...

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Janelle F. H. Winston

choral director, composer, arranger, actor, singer, and educator, was born Jester Joseph Hairston in Belews Creek North Carolina the only son and first of two children born to his parents names unknown He was the grandson of former slaves When Hairston was a year old the family moved to Kunersville Pennsylvania where his father obtained work in the steel mills His sister was born about six months later and when she was three days old their father died of pneumonia As a child Hairston is said to have loved music Although he was a small framed boy he played basketball and football in high school and college His church presented him with a scholarship to attend Massachusetts Agriculture College now known as The University of Massachusetts in Amherst Massachusetts where his educational aspirations were to study landscaping design After his scholarship ran out ...

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Lois Bellamy

baritone, choral conductor, and Tuskegee Airman, was born in New York City, the eighth of eleven children of Samuel Alexander Henderson of St. Kitts in the Caribbean and Ruth Rebecca Waites of Florence, South Carolina. Both of Ruth Henderson's grandmothers were slaves. Samuel Henderson worked for the New York City subway system, and Ruth was a piano teacher and a seamstress. Henderson said that his mother insisted that the children learn to play the piano or find somewhere else to live. His early education was in the New York City public schools.

In 1940 Henderson graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City Afterward he went to school at night to learn typing and stenography For one semester he attended Alabama State Teachers College in Montgomery Alabama against his mother s wishes The discrimination in Alabama was so intense that Henderson could not withstand it ...

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Gayle Murchison

musician, singer, and educator, was born Ravella Eudosia Hughes in Huntington, West Virginia, the daughter of George W. Hughes, a postman, and Annie B. (maiden name unknown), a piano teacher and seamstress. At age five Hughes began studying piano with her mother and, at eight or nine, violin with a musician friend of her father's. She attended Huntington's segregated public schools. Disturbed when she was racially harassed, her parents sent her to Hartshorn Memorial College (later part of Virginia Union University) in Richmond, which she attended from 1909 to 1911, graduating with a degree in music and elementary studies. She attended Oberlin High and Conservatory, graduating in 1915. In 1917 she earned a bachelor of music in Piano from Howard's Conservatory of Music, where she studied piano with LeRoy Tibbs and voice with the conservatory director Lulu Vere Childers Hughes then taught violin ...

Article

Marva Griffin Carter

choral conductor, composer, and actress, was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, to Albert Jesey, a chicken picker, and Julia (Buckner) Jesey. Eva changed the spelling of her surname to Jessye in the 1920s. Jessye later said that she received her life's directive in a speech she heard delivered by Booker T. Washington, wherein he declared: “I hope the time will never come when we neglect and scorn the songs of our fathers” (Atlanta Constitution, 6 Feb. 1978). That time never came for Eva Jessye, who dedicated herself to preserving the folk repertoire and performance practices of African Americans. Having ancestors born into slavery, she was uniquely exposed to their songs, with their inherent drama, during her youth.

Eva s mother struggled to purchase for her daughter the first black owned piano in Coffeyville which she learned to play by ear A ...

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Mary Frances Early

composer, arranger, and choral conductor, was born Francis Hall Johnson in Athens, Georgia, the son of William Decker Johnson, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister, and Alice (maiden name unknown). Music was an important part of Hall Johnson's childhood. He heard his grandmother and other former slaves as they sang the old spirituals in his father's Methodist church. This grounding in the original performance of Negro spirituals was to represent a significant influence on his later life. Johnson, exhibiting an early interest in music, received solfeggio lessons from his father and piano lessons from an older sister. As a teenager he developed an interest in the violin and taught himself to play.

Johnson was educated in the South at the Knox Institute at Atlanta University and at Allen University in Columbia South Carolina where his father was president Frustrated by his inability to find a violin ...

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Gayle Murchison

folksinger, storyteller, and founder of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, was born in Smithville, Georgia, to Abby Lou Frances, a domestic, and Ronnie Smith, a farm worker (her stepfather was James Sampson). Originally named May Elizabeth after her grandmother and great grandmother she was raised largely by her grandparents who had been slaves and who taught her a large repertoire of song children s games and folktales She came from a musical family her grandfather played accordion her uncles played guitar and banjo the latter of which they made themselves and her mother played autoharp Her grandfather who had been brought from Africa to a Virginia plantation taught her games and songs such as Jibber more commonly known as Juba and Step It Down During her childhood and young adult years Jones moved with her family from one central Georgia farm town after ...

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Brian Hallstoos

playwright, musician, and choir director, was born Willa Saunders in Little Rock, Arkansas, the daughter of Ada Anderson and Atlas Saunders, a pastor. Her twin sister and only sibling, Jimmie, died in infancy. As a child Willa learned to play the piano by practicing on an image of a keyboard drawn with charcoal on cardboard. Unable to afford lessons, she sought instruction from a girl who lived next door. In 1920 she graduated from Arkansas Baptist College and married George W. Jones, who later became a pastor. Soon after, they fled to Chicago after George was wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. The couple had two sons and a daughter who died in infancy. Willa's mother, who worked as a maid in Arkansas, traveled to Chicago to help raise her grandsons.

In Chicago Willa Jones joined St John Church Baptist the first of ...

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Wallace McClain Cheatham

violinist and conductor, was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, the oldest of two sons of Everett Astor Lee Sr., an accountant, and Mamie Amanda Blue Lee, a homemaker. The children were reared in Cleveland, Ohio.

Lee was the only one in his family to go into the music profession, though his father sang in a college quartet. His career decision was completely supported by his father. Lee graduated in 1941 with a bachelor of music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he was a violin major and student of Joseph Fuchs. Though one of the school's top violinists, he was unable to get a position with an orchestra. From 1941 to 1948, however, Lee found work as a soloist, chamber musician, and first violinist of the CBS orchestra.

Lee's conducting career began in 1948 when he became leader of the Cosmopolitan Little ...

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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 ...

Article

Jeffrey Green

choir leader, was born in Portage County, Ohio, the son of a farmer whose name is now unknown and whose financial contributions to a nearby college neither overcame the local prejudice nor secured a place for his son among the student body. Educated in Ravenna, Ohio, Loudin went on to train as a printer, only to find his opportunities restricted by white printers who refused to work with him. Even his Methodist church rejected his application to join its choir. For all its positive associations for their kinfolk in the slavery states, mid-nineteenth century Ohio was a hard place for the Loudins, as it had been for Frederick Douglass who was mobbed in Columbus, Ohio, when Frederick Loudin was a boy. He was to recall that the “ostracism was even more complete and unchristian in the free than in the slave States” (Marsh, 106).

After the Civil War Loudin ...

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Barbara A. Seals Nevergold

minister, musician, and photographer, was born in Bayou Rapides, Louisiana, to Irene Lair and Giuseppe “Joe” Nasello. Nasello, who immigrated to the United States from his native Sicily in 1901, owned a dry goods store in Alexandria, Louisiana, that Willie remembered visiting with his mother from time to time. However, Joe Nasello had another family, and given the mores of the time, “Papa” Joe never acknowledged the two children he fathered with Irene. (A daughter, Alice, was born in 1912.) Although Joe Nasello lived until 1958, it appears that father and son never met face to face nor openly acknowledged their relationship. Seals talked freely yet sparingly of his paternity, and he jokingly noted to his children that he was an “Italian.”

According to Willie, “Seals” was a made-up name that he took from Lucille Ceil a favorite grade school teacher ...

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John G. Turner

teacher, missionary, and social worker, was born Lucy Gantt in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the daughter and only child of a mixed-race former slave, Eliza Gantt. Her father, who may have been white, played no role in her upbringing. As a young child Lucy attended school between cotton seasons. At the age of eleven she gained admission to Talladega College, a school for blacks run by the Missionary Association of the Congregational Church. Eliza Gantt worked as a domestic servant to pay her daughter's tuition for the nine years that Lucy spent at Talladega.

During her last several years at Talladega, Gantt taught in one-room rural schools during the summer months. She took voice lessons at Talladega and toured for a year with Frederick J. Loudin's Jubilee Singers. In 1886 she secured employment as a teacher in Grayton Alabama where she lived and taught in a ...

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David Bradford

singer, pianist, arranger, teacher, writer, and assistant director of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to slave parents Simon Sheppard, a liveryman, and Sarah Hannah Sheppard, a domestic servant.

On 22 December 1871, ten African American students from Fisk University in Nashville—all but two former slaves—stood before the large, wealthy white congregation of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn and forever transformed American music. On a mission to raise money for their destitute school—formed by the American Missionary Association in 1866 to train black teachers the Jubilee Singers had struggled across the eastern United States performing choral arrangements of slave spirituals to small and largely uncomprehending white audiences On the verge of defeat the group was invited to sing at Plymouth Church by its pastor Henry Ward Beecher the most influential religious figure in America Beecher and his congregation were ...