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Aldridge, Amanda Ira  

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 ...

Article

Cole-Talbert, Florence O.  

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 ...

Article

Drury, Theodore  

Doris Evans McGinty

According to Jerrold Lytton (as reported by H. S. Fortune in the Colored American, June 1900), Theodore Drury was born in Kentucky of a musical family. He was well read and able to speak both French and German. Described in contemporary reports as thoroughly trained, elegant, and highly professional in bearing, he was considered by some as the first black, highly trained male singer.

It was in New York and the New England states that Drury's early performing experience as a tenor took place, often in support of more established singers. Through these appearances, his name became known and in 1889 he organized the Drury Comic Opera Company. Toward the end of that same year, the company was renamed the Theodore Drury Opera Company and gave concerts of operatic selections under the management of G. H. Barrett. An advertisement in 1889 (New York Age October ...

Article

Drury, Theodore  

Cynthia Staples

was born in Bloomfield, Kentucky and little is known about his early life. In the 1880s, while singing in his local church, he either received encouragement or independently developed a desire to become a professional singer. In order to accomplish this, he traveled to New York City in that same decade and quickly became acclimated to the musical world. He worked a series of odd jobs to make money so that he could pay for professional voice, language, and music lessons from instructors such as voice coach John Howard. His teachers introduced him to a world of music he had not known before. He fell in love with opera, a classical form of music that, for Drury, was far more uplifting than the popular and too often derogatory minstrel shows of the late nineteenth century.

In 1889 with the aid of private benefactors who today are largely unknown Drury ...

Article

Duncan, (Robert) Todd  

Dominique-René de Lerma

(b Danville, KY, Feb 12, 1903; d Washington DC, Feb 28, 1998). American baritone. After attending Butler University, Indianapolis (BA 1925), and Columbia University Teachers College (MA 1930), he joined the voice faculty of Howard University in Washington, DC, where he remained until 1945. He made his début in 1934 as Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana with the Aeolian Opera in New York, and later became the first black member of the New York City Opera, where he first appeared as Tonio (1945). Also active in musical theatre, he created Porgy in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the Alvin Theatre, New York (1935). He appeared in the London production of The Sun Never Sets (1938) and as the Lord’s General in Vernon Duke’s Cabin in the Sky (1940 New York his performance as Stephen ...

Article

Duncan, Todd  

Robert Todd Duncan was born in Danville, Kentucky. By the time he auditioned for Porgy and Bess creator George Gershwin in 1935, Duncan already held a master's degree from Columbia University and had been a professor of voice at Howard University since 1931. Eschewing the traditional Spirituals that other performers had sung as audition pieces, Duncan sang an obscure Italian aria, and Gershwin offered him the part. Duncan did not immediately accept, however. As a classically trained Opera singer who years later described himself as a “stuffed shirt” and who thought of the popular Gershwin as merely a composer of show tunes, Duncan insisted on first hearing Gershwin's music for the opera. The music convinced Duncan to play Porgy. His performance in the original Broadway production in 1935, as well as in revivals in 1937 and 1942 earned him lasting acclaim from reviewers who considered ...

Article

Duncan, Todd  

James Ross Moore

Duncan, Todd (12 February 1903–27 February 1998), singer and teacher, was born Robert Todd Duncan in Danville, Kentucky, the son of John Duncan, a garage owner, and Lettie Cooper Duncan, a music teacher. Duncan's B.A. (1925) came from Butler University; his M.A. (1930) from Columbia University's Teachers College.

Duncan taught music at the University of Louisville's Municipal College for Negroes from 1926 to 1929. While working on his master's degree, he studied voice with Sara Lee, Edward Lippo, and Sidney Dietch. In 1931 Duncan took a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where before retiring in 1945 he became head of the public school music and professional voice departments.

Duncan's singing career blossomed after a one-night, all–African-American production of Cavalleria Rusticana at New York s Mecca Temple in 1934 the year he married Gladys Jackson They had one child and remained married until Duncan s ...

Article

Evanti, Lillian  

Raymond Lemieux

Lillian Evanti's father was Wilson Bruce Evans (M.D., Howard University, 1891), who devoted his life to education in Washington, D.C., most notably as the organizer and first principal of Armstrong Technical High School. Her mother, the former Anne Brooks, was a teacher of music in the public schools of Washington.

Evanti's musical talent was manifest early. At age four she sang as the featured soloist at a concert in Friendship Gardens. She began the study of piano at age five and became an accomplished performer in her teens. She graduated from Armstrong Technical High School in 1908, graduated from Miner Teachers College, taught kindergarten in the public schools, and later became part of the faculty of the college. She received a bachelor of music degree from Howard University in 1917.

In 1918 Evanti married her teacher, Roy W. Tibbs who was a professor ...

Article

Evanti, Lillian Evans  

Eric Ledell Smith

opera and concert vocalist and composer, was born Annie Wilson Lillian Evans in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Dr. William Bruce Evans and Annie D. Brooks. Her antebellum ancestors made their mark in African American history. Evanti's paternal grandfather, Henry Evans, was an abolitionist involved in the 1859 Oberlin-Wellington riot. Her great uncle Lewis Sheridan Leary participated in John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Her mother, Annie Evans, was a schoolteacher in Washington D.C. Her father, William Bruce Evans, whose ancestors came to Washington from Oberlin, Ohio, first served as a physician and later became one of the few black school principals in Washington, D.C.

Lillian Evans was a precocious child who sang her first public recital in 1894 at the age of four The Evans family loved classical music and singing They purchased a piano and hired a piano teacher to give their daughter ...

Article

Frierson, Andrew Bennie  

Wallace McClain Cheatham

opera singer, college and music conservatory professor, composer, activist, and genealogist, the youngest of seven children, was born in Columbia, Tennessee, and reared in Louisville, Kentucky, where his family moved in search of suitable employment and better schools. Andrew's mother, Lue Vergia Esters Frierson, was a homemaker. His father, Robert Clinton Frierson, was a laborer.

At age three Frierson first dramatically showcased his musical talent. One afternoon he accompanied his mother to the home of an old family friend where there was a piano. Frierson saw the instrument, went to it, and instinctively began to play recognizable songs. Frierson's mother and her friends were astounded because he had never even seen a piano. By the age of five Frierson was playing all over the town.

After four years of piano study with William King and graduation from high school Frierson went to ...

Article

Maynor, Dorothy Leigh  

Rachel Antell

Dorothy Leigh Maynor (originally Mainor) was born to John J. Mainor, a pastor, and Alice Jeffries Mainor, in Norfolk, Virginia. At age fourteen, Maynor enrolled at Hampton Institute where she studied with the goal of becoming a public school teacher. During her college years, Maynor's focus increasingly shifted toward vocal training and the study of piano and orchestral instruments. After graduating, she decided to pursue a second degree in music from Westminster Choir College in New Jersey and then spent four years in New York continuing her musical studies privately under Wilfried Klamroth and John Alan Houghton.

In 1939 Maynor made her solo singing debut at the Berkshire Musical Festival in Tanglewood Massachusetts for which she received widespread acclaim The performance was soon followed by a New York debut at Town Hall where reviewers called her one of the most remarkable soprano voices of her generation ...

Article

McFerrin, Robert (opera)  

Dominique-René de Lerma

(b Marianna, ar, March 19, 1921; d St Louis, MO, Nov 24, 2006). American baritone. After appearing in 1949 in Weill’s Lost in the Stars, in William Grant Still’s Troubled Island at the New York City Opera and as Amonasro in Aida with the National Negro Opera Company, he joined the New England Opera Company in 1950. He was the first black male to join the Metropolitan company, making his début on 27 January 1955 as Amonasro; his other roles were Valentin and Rigoletto. After a period in Naples at the Teatro S Carlo, he was chosen to sing the role of Porgy (played by Sidney Poitier) in the soundtrack of the film of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1959). He toured internationally as a recitalist, and was also active as a teacher.

Article

McFerrin, Robert Sr.  

Christopher Wells

opera singer and educator, was born in Marriana, Arkansas, the son of Melvin McFerrin, a Baptist minister, and Mary McKinley McFerrin. McFerrin grew up in a musical family as his parents and siblings could sing and play various instruments. He moved with his family in 1926 to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was educated in the public school system. Wirt D. Walton, his music teacher at Sumner High School, encouraged him to pursue a career as a professional singer. Walton acted as both voice teacher and patron to McFerrin, giving him free lessons and assembling an interracial group of benefactors who established the Robert McFerrin Scholarship Fund to support McFerrin in his continuing vocal studies.

After a year in Tennessee at Fisk University, McFerrin moved to Chicago, where he studied with George Graham at Chicago Musical College, eventually receiving his B.A. in 1948 In Chicago ...

Article

Mitchell, Abbie  

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 ...

Article

Warfield, William  

Elizabeth Forbes

(b West Helena, AR, Jan 22, 1920; d Chicago, Aug 25, 2002). American bass. He studied at the Eastman School of Music and appeared on Broadway, taking part in the première of Blitzstein’s Regina (1949). He made his recital début at Town Hall, New York, on 19 March 1950, and his first recordings were produced the following year. In 1952–3 he toured Europe as Porgy (with Leontyne Price, to whom he was then married, as Bess), appearing in London, Vienna and Berlin, among other cities. He also sang Porgy in New York (1961) and at the Vienna Volksoper (1971–2). Other roles included Joe in Showboat He also toured widely as a soloist His fine deep voice was used with great artistry and he was an excellent actor He taught at the University of Illinois and at ...

Article

Warfield, William Caesar  

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 ...

Article

Williams, Camilla Ella  

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 ...

Article

Williams, Robert Bradford  

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 ...