Sissieretta Jones
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Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, whose nickname the "Black Patti" likened her to the well-known Spanish-born opera star Adelina Patti, was a distinguished African American soprano during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Performing in such venues as Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, Jones also sang before four U.S. presidents. In this compelling book-length biography of Jones, Maureen Donnelly Lee chronicles the successes and challenges of this musical pioneer. Lee details how Jones was able to overcome substantial obstacles of racial bias to build a twenty-eight-year career performing in hundreds of opera houses and theaters throughout North America and Europe.

Serving as a role model for other African American women who came after her, Jones became a successful performer despite the many challenges she faced. She confronted head on the social difficulties African American performers endured during the rise of Jim Crow segregation. Throughout her career Jones was a concert singer performing ballads and operatic pieces, and she eventually went on to star in her own musical comedy company, the Black Patti Troubadours. Critics praised Jones as America's leading African American prima donna, with some even dubbing her voice one in a million.

Lee's research, utilizing many Black newspapers, such as the New York Age and the Indianapolis Freeman, concert reviews, and court documents brings overdue recognition to an important historical songstress. Sissieretta Jones: "The Greatest Singer of Her Race," 1868-1933 provides a comprehensive, moving portrait of Jones and a vivid overview of the exciting world in which she performed.



Publié par
Date de parution 31 janvier 2013
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611172812
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1250€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Sissieretta Jones

Maureen D. Lee

© 2012 University of South Carolina
Cloth edition published by the University of South Carolina Press, 2012 Paperback and ebook editions published in Columbia, South Carolina, by the University of South Carolina Press, 2013
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the cloth edition as follows:
Lee, Maureen D. Sissieretta Jones : “the greatest singer of her race,” 1868–1933 / Maureen D. Lee. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-61117-072-6 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Black Patti, 1869–1933. 2. African American singers Biography. 3. Black Patti Troubadours. I. Title. ML420.B6325L44 2012 782.0092 dc23 [B] 2011050452
ISBN 978-1-61117-280-5 (pbk) ISBN 978-1-61117-281-2 (ebook)
For my husband, John Lee, and my mother, Helen Petterson, who have supported me with their love and encouragement
List of Illustrations
Rhode Island
West Indies and South American Tours
“I Woke Up Famous,” 1892
Trouble on the Horizon, 1893
The Road to Europe, 1894–1895
A New Career: The 1896–1897 Theatrical Season
The Black Patti Troubadours, Early Years, 1897–1900
The Black Patti Troubadours, 1900–1906
The Final Troubadour Years, 1906–1909
The Black Patti Musical Comedy Company, 1909–1914
The Last Tour, 1914–1915
Retirement and Tributes
Appendix A
Sissieretta Jones's Selected Repertoire
Appendix B
1901–1902 Black Patti Troubadours' Tour
A young Sissieretta Jones
Sissieretta Jones
Sissieretta Jones, early 1890s
Sissieretta Jones with medals
Sissieretta Jones in Pittsburgh
Program from Central Music Hall, Chicago, January 1893
Drawing of a Troubadours' buck-dancing contest
“Black Patti” advertising flyer, ca. 1897
Sissieretta with tiara
Portrait of Sissieretta Jones
Black Patti Troubadours songbook
Portrait of Sissieretta Jones
Sissieretta Jones
Sissieretta Jones in robe
Sissieretta Jones with hat
Sissieretta Jones in a “shipboard” photography session
Some biographers claim their subjects choose them. Such was my experience with Sissieretta Jones. I first heard about her while visiting family in my native state of Rhode Island. My brother, George Donnelly, was working with others in Providence to create a unique Rhode Island history exhibit called “Rhode Island Treasures.” The idea behind the exhibit was to feature artifacts and historical documents seldom seen by most Rhode Islanders. Two of those items were dresses worn by Matilda Sissieretta Jones, the African American soprano who is the subject of this book. Sissieretta, born in Virginia in 1868, grew up in Providence and retired there after a lengthy singing career.
From the moment I read a brief description of her life and saw her photograph, I was fascinated and wanted to know more about her. Soon after I retired from Clemson University, I began researching more about her life. My husband, John, and I visited the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Manuscript Division, at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where Sissieretta's scrapbook and three of the nearly twenty medals she received for singing are kept in the Dr. Carl R. Gross Collection. It was a thrill to touch the scrapbook Sissieretta must have held in her hands many times, to see her photographs, and to hold three of the medals she wore.
After reviewing the newspaper clippings in the scrapbook, most of which are not dated and many of which do not bear the name of the newspaper, John and I began a four-year task of methodically reviewing old New York entertainment weeklies and two prominent African American newspapers (the New York Age and the Indianapolis Freeman ) that provided news of the stage. We examined these newspapers, which were available on microfilm, for the years 1885 to 1915 (the year she retired from the stage). With the information we gathered, we put together a schedule of her whereabouts, month by month, for the years she performed on the stage. (See appendix B for a sample of her touring schedule, this one for the 1901–2 theater season.) Using these schedules, as well as newspaper articles and reviews about her concerts and shows, I was able to piece together details about her career and chronicle her professional life. Unfortunately Sissieretta did not leave diaries or letters that might have provided more insight into her private life.
I must ask readers to forgive the demeaning language and derogatory terms quoted in the text from newspaper articles written during Sissieretta's career. These words reflect some of what she and other African Americans were subjected to in their daily lives in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I have tried to ensure that these derogatory terms and prejudicial comments have been placed in historical context, as well as to show how African Americans led the movement in the early 1900s to remove these harmful words from use.
The pages that follow describe Sissieretta's early years, how she became a singer, and her rise to fame on the concert stage. The second half of the book traces her career as the head of her own road company, the Black Patti Troubadours, later called the Black Patti Musical Comedy Company. The final chapter tells what little is known about Sissieretta's retirement years in Rhode Island before her death in 1933. I have enjoyed adding to the knowledge about this remarkable singer. I hope my work will help to foster the recognition Sissieretta Jones so richly deserves.
In the nine years I have worked on this biography of Sissieretta Jones, I have had the good fortune to receive assistance from many people. The first person I want to thank is my husband, John, for his constant support and encouragement. Without it I would not have finished this biography. I also wish to thank him for the countless hours he helped me search reels of microfilm of old newspapers for information about Sissieretta, compiled her performance schedules, and read numerous drafts of my work.
I want to thank the staff of the Interlibrary Loan Department and the Government Information, Microforms and Newspapers Department at the Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina in Columbia. For four years the Interlibrary Loan Department, particularly Jo Cottingham (now retired), responded quickly and patiently to my many requests for years of old newspapers as well as hard-to-find publications. With borrowed microfilm reels in hand, my husband and I viewed the film on the machines in the Government Information, Microforms and Newspapers Department. Thanks to director Bill Sudduth and his excellent staff for all the assistance they gave us.
Many other libraries and librarians helped me. They include Eric Nitschke, reference librarian, Woodruff Library, Emory University, Atlanta; the Library of Congress; the Richland County Public Library, Columbia, South Carolina; Robert Hetilewigs, Norfolk (Virginia) Public Libraries, History Department; Tricia Roush, former reference librarian, and Kirsten Tanaka, head librarian, Performing Arts Library, Museum of Performance and Design, San Francisco; Joellen ElBashir, chief curator, and Ida Jones, assistant curator, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Manuscript Division, Howard University, Washington, D.C.; Portsmouth (Virginia) Public Library; Jennifer Lee, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University; Nicolette Bromberg, Special Collections Division, University of Washington Library; J. D. Kay and the staff of the Rhode Island Historical Society Library; and the Providence (Rhode Island) Public Library. I am indebted to the librarians and photo reproduction staff at these institutions for helping me find the materials I needed to complete my research and for providing the photos included in this book.
I also want to thank several people who shared their experience and knowledge with me. Thanks to Joaquina Bela Teixeira, former executive director of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, for providing information about African American history in Rhode Island and giving me a copy of a 1911 letter Sissieretta wrote to her attorney. I also received great marketing tips and helpful information from Ray Rickman, a scholar of African American history in Rhode Island. Thanks to Glenn Laxton, former reporter for Channel 12 News in Providence, for helping me search for Sissieretta's grave in the Grace Church Cemetery in Providence. Thanks also to Mrs. Linnear H. Horne, music director (retired), Congdon Street Baptist Church in Providence, who shared the history of the church with me as well as stories about her grandfather William Younger, who would have been the choir director when Sissieretta retired to Providence in 1915. Sissieretta sometimes sang with the choir during her retirement years. My husband enjoyed singing at the church during our visit there while Mrs. Linnear accompanied him on the pipe organ.
John T. Meyers, archivist (retired) at Providence City Hall, was incredibly helpful in my search for information about Sissieretta's estate. I thank him for locating the estate documents in archived probate c

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