Choir director, music director, activist, composer, journalist. Led the official choir of the March on Washington (1963)
Jessye’s musical leadership during the 1920s and 1930s placed her at the helm of some of the most important significant productions during this period, on Broadway and in Hollywood. She was a music director for King Vidor’s Hallelujah (1929), the first Black cast sound film (though Vidor was white), and her choir, the Dixie Jubilee Singers appeared in the film. She was accepted to university aged 14, because she wasn’t allowed to enroll in high school education as a Black woman. She met and was inspired by Will Marion Cook, and after graduation worked as a high school teacher. In this article I’ve found some of her remarks in interviews and coverage of her work.
Margaret Harris (1943 – 2000) is slightly better remembered for her work as a conductor than her contemporary, Joyce Brown. She had a long association with the musical Hair and conducted over 800 performances, on Broadway and as MD for its national tours .
There’s much more to Harris’s career, and retracing newspaper coverage of her work reveals interviews with her, and the prospect of several Broadway shows she was never credited for. Footage of Harris conducting and playing the piano has also been found, and shared here for the first time.
In the last post – I talked about how we could research the people listed in the 1893 RNCM register, most of whom are women. I’ve shared some of the research findings here – with some intriguing, but sometimes incomplete findings. It is very difficult to find details on women’s professional careers because their names often changed at marriage – and not just their first name as some women became professionally known as Mrs [Husband’s first name] [Husband’s last name]. It is worth noting that the Married Women’s Property Act had only come into effect in 1882.
So here are 16 mini-biographies where women can be traced – more may be added if I find anything else!
Back in the *before times* I did quite a lot of research on the 1893 register of the first intake into what was then the Royal Manchester College of Music.
I’ve come back to this dataset to think about how we can understand who was part of this first group of students, and how they began their professional careers. The first intake into the school in October 1893 was 82% female – and some later historical accounts of the school emphasised the idea that it was a kind of finishing school for nice, middle-class, ladies looking for good husbands. But the reality is very different, and the evidence clearly demonstrates the school was a vital part of training musicians and teachers, right from the beginning. The assumption has been made that because it was for women, it couldn’t possibly have been serious, but of course, that’s just not the case.