African American Musiciansby Eleanora E. Tate, Jim Haskins
Meet the black musicians who created Americais greatest musicfrom the early years to modern times Marian Anderson Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Chuck Berry Thomas "Blind Tom" Greene Bethune Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle James Brown Ray Charles Edmund Dede Thomas Andrew Dorsey Duke Ellington Ella Fitzgerald Aretha Franklin Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield W. C. Handy
Meet the black musicians who created Americais greatest musicfrom the early years to modern times Marian Anderson Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Chuck Berry Thomas "Blind Tom" Greene Bethune Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle James Brown Ray Charles Edmund Dede Thomas Andrew Dorsey Duke Ellington Ella Fitzgerald Aretha Franklin Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield W. C. Handy Mahalia Jackson Michael Jackson Francis Hall Johnson Scott Joplin B. B. King Queen Latifah Millie-Christine McCoy Jessye Norman Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (Pridgett) Doug and Frankie Quimby Paul Robeson Bessie Smith Stevie Wonder
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Among the earliest African Americans to make a splash in American music was Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield. Despite the absence of a black role model in concert music, this dedicated black star became known around the world as an "African nightingale" for her remarkable singing voice.
Elizabeth Greenfield was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1809 to an enslaved couple named Taylor. Elizabeth's father was a native African. He and Elizabeth's mother lived on the homestead of Mrs. Holliday Greenfield, a wealthy woman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Although Mrs. Greenfield was a Quaker, she owned slaves. When she decided to move back to Pennsylvania, she freed Elizabeth's parents and sent them to Liberia, but she kept baby Elizabeth. The child lived with Mrs. Greenfield for several years, then moved in with one of her own relatives, Mary Parker.
At a young age Elizabeth showed "a propensity for singing and probably did so at her local church." By the time Elizabeth was in her late teens, she had a basic understanding of music and was probably amazing her friends with her songs. In the meantime, Mrs. Greenfield had grown old. At Mrs. Greenfield's request, Elizabeth became her companion and live-in housekeeper, but she never stopped singing.
One of Mrs. Greenfield's neighbors, Miss Price, heard Elizabeth singing and was so impressed that she gave Elizabeth music lessons. Miss Price's interest in Elizabeth was valuable because it introduced Elizabeth to other whites who encouraged her with her music. With Mrs. Greenfield's support, Elizabeth began singing at private parties in the Philadelphia area. Mrs. Greenfield died in the mid-1840s. Her will stated that $1,500 was to be set aside for the return of Elizabeth's mother from Liberia, and that $100 was to be given annually to Elizabeth throughout her lifetime. Mrs. Greenfield's relatives and attorneys, however, contested the will so vigorously that Elizabeth never received any money.
But the young songstress persevered. In 1849, Elizabeth received her first "break." A prominent Philadelphia musician and bandmaster hired her to sing in Baltimore. While in Baltimore, she also looked for jobs as a music teacher. When she heard that the "Swedish nightingale" Jenny Lind was scheduled to sing in Buffalo, New York, in 1851, Greenfield began saving her money to pay for her travel there. While on a boat en route to Buffalo, she met and sang for Buffalo resident Mrs. H. B. Potter, who invited her to sing for her friends at her Buffalo mansion.
A group of Buffalo residents sponsored Elizabeth in a series of concerts for the Buffalo Music Association. The first concert was held October 22, 1851. The concerts were so successful that Elizabeth was nicknamed the "Black Swan" after Jenny Lind. Greenfield went on to sing in nonslaveholding states and in Canada. She was a soprano whose range was over three and one-fourth octaves. She often amazed her audiences by singing the song "Old Folks at Home" first as a soprano, and then as a baritone.
Despite her popularity, Greenfield suffered many instances of racism in the North. On March 31, 1853, for example, she was scheduled to sing at the Metropolitan Hall in New York before 4,000 people. No other black people were allowed. Someone threatened to "burn the house" if a "colored woman sang" there. Police had to be brought in to protect the building. Greenfield sang, even though she was frightened. Mindful of the exclusion of her own people, she gave a follow-up concert to help the Home of Aged Colored Persons and the Colored Orphan Asylum.
That same year, she went to London, England, to sing, but had problems with the promoter over money. Author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was in town at the same time to publicize her book Uncle Tom's Cabin, went to hear her sing. Stowe helped introduce Greenfield to the Duchess of Sutherland and to Sir George Smart, the Queen of England's musician. This led to more concerts, and Greenfield also received musical training from Sir George. On May 10, 1854, she gave a command performance at Buckingham Palace for England's Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria said that Greenfield had "a most wonderful compass of voice, ranging over fully three octaves with fine, clear high notes. . . ."
Upon Greenfield's return to the United States, she continued ttouring sang again in Canada, and completed another tour of the northern United States in 1856. Between tours, she taught music to other rising stars in Philadelphia. She stopped touring when anti-black sentiment rose over the Dred Scott decision and the Civil War began. Her last extended tour was in 1863.
Meet the Author
ELEANORA E. TATE is a children's book author who has won numerous awards, including a CBC/NCSS Notable Childrenís Trade Book in the field of social studies for Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! and a Parent's Choice Gold Seal Award for The Secret of Gumbo Grove.
JIM HASKINS has written more than 100 nonfiction books for young readers. A professor of English at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Haskins has won numerous awards, including the Washington Post Childrenís Book Guild Award.
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