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Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones

Background information
Birth name Matilda Sissieretta Joyner
Also known as The Black Patti
Born January 5, 1868(1868-01-05)
Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S.
Died June 24, 1933 (aged 65)
Providence, Rhode Island
Genres grand opera, light opera, popular music
Years active 1887–1915

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, known as Sissieretta Jones, (January 5, 1868 or 1869[1] – June 24, 1933[2]) was an African-American soprano. She sometimes was called "The Black Patti" in reference to Italian opera singer Adelina Patti. Jones' repertoire included grand opera, light opera, and popular music.[3]



Matilda Sissieretta Joyner was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, United States, to Jeremiah Malachi Joyner, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Henrietta Beale.[2] By 1876 her family moved to Providence, Rhode Island,[4] where she began singing at an early age in her father's Pond Street Baptist Church.[2]

In 1883 Joyner began the formal study of music at the Providence Academy of Music. The same year she married David Richard Jones, a news dealer and hotel bellman. In the late 1880s, Jones was accepted at the New England Conservatory of Music.[1] In 1887, she performed at Boston's Music Hall before an audience of 5,000.[2]

Jones made her New York debut on April 5, 1888, at Steinway Hall.[1] During a performance at Wallack's Theater in New York, Jones came to the attention of Adelina Patti's manager, who recommended that Jones tour the West Indies with the Fisk Jubilee Singers.[2] Jones made successful tours of the Caribbean in 1888 and 1892.[1]

In February 1892, Jones performed at the White House for President Benjamin Harrison.[2] She eventually sang for four consecutive presidents — Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt — and the British royal family.[1][2][3]

Jones in an 1889 poster[5]

Jones performed at the Grand Negro Jubilee at New York's Madison Square Garden in April 1892 before an audience of 75,000. She sang the song "Swanee River" and selections from La traviata.[3] She was so popular that she was invited to perform at the Pittsburgh Exposition (1892) and the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893).[4]

In June 1892 Jones became the first African-American to sing at the Music Hall in New York (renamed Carnegie Hall the following year).[1][6] Among the selections in her program were Charles Gounod's "Ave Maria" and Giuseppe Verdi's "Sempre libera" (from La traviata).[1] The New York Echo wrote of her performance at the Music Hall:

If Mme Jones is not the equal of Adelina Patti, she at least can come nearer it than anything the American public has heard. Her notes are as clear as a mockingbird's and her annunciation perfect.[1]

In 1893 Jones met composer Antonín Dvořák, and in January 1894 she performed parts of his Symphony No. 9 at Madison Square Garden. Dvořák wrote a solo part for Jones.[1]

Jones met with international success. Besides the United States and the West Indies, Jones toured in South America, Australia, India, and southern Africa.[1] During a European tour in 1895 and 1896, Jones performed in London, Paris, Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Milan, and Saint Petersburg.[7]

1898 newspaper advertisement for the Black Patti Troubadours

In 1896, Jones returned to Providence to care for her mother, who had become ill.[1] Jones found that access to most American classical concert halls was limited by racism. She formed the Black Patti Troubadours (later renamed the Black Patti Musical Comedy Company), a musical and acrobatic act made up of 40 jugglers, comedians, dancers and a chorus of 40 trained singers.[2]

The revue paired Jones with rising vaudeville composers Bob Cole and Billy Johnson. The show consisted of a musical skit, followed by a series of short songs and acrobatic performances. During the final third of each show, Jones performed arias and operatic excerpts.[7] The revue provided Jones with a comfortable income, reportedly in excess of $20,000 per year. Several members of the troupe, such as Bert Williams, went on to become famous.[1]

Jones retired from performing in 1915. She devoted the remainder of her life to her church and to caring for her mother. Jones was forced to sell most of her property to survive.[1][2] She died penniless on June 24, 1933.[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Alexander, George (Summer 2007), "The Soprano", American Legacy: the Magazine of African-American History & Culture  .
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Sissieretta Jones". Women in History. Retrieved 2008-05-04.  
  3. ^ a b c Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed (1999). "M. Sissieretta Jones". Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. New York: Basic Civitas Books. pp. p. 1065.  
  4. ^ a b Hill, Errol; James Vernon Hatch (2003). A History of African American Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 148. ISBN 0521624436.  
  5. ^ This is the only portrait poster of an African-American performer held by the Library of Congress Performing Arts Posters collection from the period of Jones' career.
  6. ^ Hudson, Rob. "From Opera, Minstrelsy and Ragtime to Social Justice: An Overview of African American Performers at Carnegie Hall, 1892-1943". The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Retrieved 2008-05-07.  
  7. ^ a b Hill; Hatch. A History of African American Theatre. p. 149.  

Further reading

  • Abbott, Lynn; Doug Seroff (2002). Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889–1895. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1578064996.  
  • Nettles, Darryl Glenn (2003). African American Concert Singers Before 1950. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.. ISBN 0786414677.  
  • Story, Rosalyn M. (1990). And So I Sing: African-American Divas of Opera and Concert. New York: Warner Books. ISBN 0446710164.  

External links



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