REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » Voices of Black America
This unique collection, compiled especially for Naxos AudioBooks, features original recordings from 1908–1946 of Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition Address, the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes, the rarely heard humour of Charley Case, readings from God’s Trombones by James Weldon Johnson, and much much more.
Voices of Black America
Historical Recordings of Speeches,
Poetry, Humor & Drama
Notes on the Speakers and the Recordings
BOOKER T. [ALIAFERRO] WASHINGTON
(Franklin County, Virginia, circa April 5, 1856 - Tuskegee, Alabama, November 14,1915)
Washington was a prominent nineteenth-century social leader and educator,
the founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama (1881). His influential
autobiography, Up from Slavery, was published in 1901.
The famous ten-minute address excerpted on this private record ¡V the only
known recording of his voice ¡V was originally delivered at the opening of the
Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, on September
18, 1895. Long known as "The Atlanta Compromise", it would have a substantial
impact on race relations in America and, accordingly, has undergone considerable
re-appraisal by successive generations of social historians. In the recording,
Washington reads the first through the third paragraphs complete, skips the
fourth, and closes in the middle of the fifth, with only minor alterations to the
original published text (generally, added and deleted conjunctions and adapted
This Columbia Personal Record was reissued in 1919 or 1920 on Broome
Records, one of the earliest African-American-owned record labels, first advertised
by owner George W. Broome in The Crisis in May 1918. Numbered Broome
No. A, it was simply a Columbia pressing with a Broome label pasted over.
J.[AMES] A.[NDREW] MYERS (c. 1878-1928)
Myers spent his later years as professor of religion at Fisk University in
Nashville, Tennessee, and was the second tenor of the famous Fisk Jubilee
Singers. He often gave readings of Dunbar's poems in the male quartet's
public appearances. Four of the Fisk [University] Jubilee Singers' Victor
recordings, sung by Messrs. Work, Ryder, Myers, and O'Hara, were coupled
with Myers' readings. The original labels read "Rev. J. A. Myers | of Fisk
University", the selections labeled "Dialect Recitations". Take ¡V2 of When
Malindy Sings, recorded on December 21, 1909, was assigned for issue as
Victor 35097, according to company ledgers, but all copies inspected used
the rejected Take ¡V1 from December 9th.
EDWARD STERLING WRIGHT (? - ?)
Though he may have been a prominent actor, little is known about Edward
Sterling Wright. Even the original slips accompanying his Edison cylinders
give no career details. He made only three four-minute Blue Amberol cylinders,
all in 1914. Five of the six titles he recorded were Dunbar poems.
The earliest publication of the poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Dayton,
Ohio, June 27, 1872 - February 2, 1906) recorded by Rev. Myers and
Edward Sterling Wright were as follows: "A Banjo Song" in Oak and Ivy, the
first published collection of Dunbar's poems (Dayton, Ohio: Press of the
United Brethren Publishing House, 1893); "When Malindy Sings" in Majors
and Minors (Toledo, Ohio: Hadley and Hadley, 1895), Harper's Weekly (June
27, 1896), and Current Literature (September 1896); "The Ol' Tunes" in
Indianapolis Journal (Summer 1892) and Oak and Ivy (ibid.); "In the
Morning" in Lyrics of Love and Laughter (New York: Dodd, Meade and Co.,
1903); "A Little Christmas Basket" in Lyrics of Love and Laughter (ibid.); and
"'Howdy, Honey, Howdy!'" in the Burlington [Iowa] Hawk-Eye (June 8,
1902) and Chattanooga Times (June 15, 1902).
JAMES WELDON JOHNSON
(Jacksonville, Florida, June 17, 1871 - Wiscasset, Maine, June 26, 1938)
Johnson was an author, lyricist, critic, editor, diplomat (serving in the federal
Consular Service, 1906-1913), and educator. He was the NAACP's first field
secretary (1916-1920) and its first, influential executive secretary throughout
the 1920s. His most prominent publications included Fifty Years & Other
Poems (1917), The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), two collections of
American Negro spirituals, in collaboration with his brother, J. Rosamond
Johnson (1925 and 1926), Black Manhattan (1930), Negro Americans, What
Now? (1934), and two autobiographies: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored
Man (1912; 1927) and Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon
God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse was published in April
1927 by Viking Press, New York. Inspired by his frequent travels throughout
the country as an NAACP speaker (1916-1931), The Creation dates from
1920; the other six sermons from late 1926. In this rare Musicraft set, his
only commercial recordings, Johnson reads the opening prayer and the first
three sermons. The records were issued posthumously ¡V first listed in the
Gramophone Shop (New York) Record Supplement for August 1938, less than
two months after Johnson's death in an automobile accident ¡V as dubbed from
instantaneous discs made circa 1937 or early 1938.
[JAMES] LANGSTON HUGHES
(Joplin, Missouri, February 1, 1902 - New York, May 22, 1967)
Poet and author Langston Hughes was one of the vivid, defining figures of
what has become known as the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The original
Asch set, Hughes' first commercial recordings, was titled variously:
Langston Hughes on Asch Records, Langston Hughes Poems, and Poems
by Langston Hughes. It was first listed in the Gramophone Shop Record
Supplement for May 1945, but may have been recorded as early as August,
1944: the preceding matrix numbers, 710-712 and 714-715, belong to the
Mary Lou Williams Trio session recorded in New York on August 10, 1944
(though in fact the numbers etched in the waxes of Asch pressings may not
be the actual master numbers). The matrix number missing from the Hughes
sequence (723) was not used in the set.
Many of the Hughes poems underwent significant changes in both text
and title by the time they were published. Composite titles, using brackets,
are given in the listing, reconciling the Asch labels, Hughes' own announcements
within the recordings, and the actual published titles. The liner notes to the
album describe the material as "a group of poems from Poetry, Esquire and
other magazines, not yet published in book form, plus several new ones
hitherto unpublished anywhere". The 1942 Shakespeare in Harlem collection
is also mentioned, but none of these citations helps to date the actual
recordings ¡V indeed, Hughes was published frequently in both Poetry
and Esquire years before the set could possibly have been recorded.
While a majority of the poems appeared subsequently in well-known
collections and anthologies, their original publication was as follows: "Florida
Road Workers" in the New York Herald Tribune (November 23, 1930); "Good
Morning, Stalingrad" in Jim Crow's Last Stand (Atlanta: Negro Publication
Society of America, 1943); "To Captain Mulzac" in Jim Crow's Last Stand (ibid.);
"[The] Negro Speaks of Rivers" in The Crisis (June 1921); "Mother to Son"
in The Crisis (December 1922); "Ma Lord" in The Crisis (June 1927); "I, Too
[Sing America]", aka "Epilogue", in Survey Graphic (March 1, 1925);
"Harlem Sweeties" in Shakespeare in Harlem (New York: Knopf, 1942);
"Sylvester's Dying Bed [The Death of a Mighty Lover]" in Poetry (October
1931); "Wake" in Shakespeare in Harlem (ibid.); "[A] Little Lyric [Of Great
Importance]" in the Carmel Pine Cone (March 21, 1941); "Porter" in Fine
Clothes to the Jew (New York: Knopf, 1927); "Brass Spittoons" in New Masses
(December 1926); "Ku Klux [Klan]" in Shakespeare in Harlem (ibid.);
"Merry-Go-Round" in Common Ground (Spring 1942); "The Weary Blues" in
Opportunity (May 1925); "Too Blue" in Contemporary Poet (Autumn 1943);
"Could Be [Blues]" in One-Way Ticket (New York: Knopf, 1949); "Late Last
Night [Blues]" in One-Way Ticket (ibid.); "Still Here" in Jim Crow's Last Stand
(ibid.); "Ballad of the Landlord" in Opportunity (December 1940); "Big Buddy"
in Negro Quarterly (Spring 1942); "Note on Commercial Theatre" in The Crisis
(March 1940); "Silence" in the Carmel Pine Cone (July 18, 1941); "Burden" in
the Carmel Pine Cone (November 14, 1941); "Havana Dreams" in Opportunity
(June 1933); "[The] Breath of a Rose" in The Big Sea (New York: Knopf,
1940); "Border Line" in Fields of Wonder (New York: Knopf, 1947); and "In
Time of Silver Rain" in Opportunity (June 1938).
"Little Songs" ["Gather out of loneliness | All the songs you know"] appears
to be unpublished, and is not to be confused with "Lonely people | In the lonely
night", from Fields of Wonder (ibid.) or "Carmencita Loves Patrick", from
the "18 Poems for Children", first published in the Langston Hughes Reader
(New York: Braziller, 1958). These published poems both appeared under the
title "Little Song". Similarly "Prayer" may not have been published. It is not
listed in any Hughes bibliography, nor does it appear in the collected works.
It is neither "I ask you this" (Buccaneer, 1925) or "Gather up | In the arms
of your pity" (Contemporaneous, September-October 1931), aka "Big City
Prayer", both published under the title "Prayer".
Hughes reads what is essentially the original 1930 published version of
"Florida Road Workers", beginning at line three of the revisions (1931-1949),
with the first and part of the last short stanzas as the conclusion, but with the
revised lines ten and eleven, originally published as "For the rich old white
men to sweep over in their big cars". As published, "Porter" ends "Yes, sir!"
without "... boss. Yes, sir!" The reading of "Ku Klux [Klan]", published as "Ku
Klux", substitutes "A Klansman said, 'Listen..." for "A Klansman said, 'Nigger..."
in the final stanza. In the published version of "Could Be [Blues]", the last two
lines of the third stanza are "Might be that you'll come back, | Like as not you
won't;" in the final stanza, "Hastings Street" and "Lennox Avenue" replace
"Central" and "Wiley" Avenues. Hughes' reading of "Late Last Night [Blues]"
contains an unpublished repeat of the first two lines. Line two of the original
1940 published version of "Note on Commercial Theatre" was "You sing 'em in
Paris" instead of "Broadway" and this early version ended without the last line,
which was added in 1943 and revised again in 1959. The insertion of "I reckon..."
is unique to the recording. "Havana Dreams" was omitted from the label
of Asch 4544.
All of the other differences between the recordings and the published texts
are simple, single-word substitutions or omissions.
(Lockport, New York, c.1858 - New York City, November 27, 1916)
This most unusual comedian, remembered now for the deadpan humor of
his three Victor recordings, was evidently of part Irish, part African-American
decent. He abandoned a law practice in the early years of the last century,
first to become a peddler, then a very successful blackface entertainer,
billing himself initially as 'The Man Who Talks About His Father'. His gentle,
self-effacing vignettes, with their sly, unspoken punch lines, seem endearingly
out-of-step with the boisterous style of early vaudeville comedy.
Case died of what was ruled an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound.
(Born Egbert Austin Williams, Antigua or Nassau, British West Indies, November 12, 1874 - New York, March 4, 1922)
Bert Williams was among the first African-American entertainers to forge a
truly international reputation and with his partner, George W. Walker (1873-
1911), was one of the authentic architects of black musical theater in America.
Beginning modestly in Victor Herbert's The Gold Bug (1896) and gradually
establishing star credentials in a number of early shows (among them, The
Policy Players, 1899, and The Sons of Ham, 1900), the team eventually
produced Paul Laurence Dunbar and Will Marion Cook's In Dahomey (Boston
Music Hall, September 22, 1902; New York Theater, February 18, 1903; and
Shaftesbury Theatre, London, May 16, 1903), generally considered to be the
first full-length musical written and performed by African-Americans to play
a legitimate New York City house (E. E. Rice's celebrated 1898 Clorindy, or The
Origin of the Cakewalk, the work of Dunbar and Ernest Hogan, enjoyed only a
brief run at New York's Casino Roof Garden). Abyssinia (1906) and Bandana
Land (1908) followed. After Walker's premature retirement in 1909, Williams
entered the New York mainstream as a Keith Procter Circuit solo act and thereafter,
as a Ziegfeld star (1910-1919). His last New York stage appearance
in The Broadway Brevities of 1920 was followed by a final show, Under the
Bamboo Tree (aka The Pink Slip), which played Cincinnati, Chicago and Detroit
in the winter of 1921 and 1922.
Between October 1901 and February 1922, Williams recorded prolifically
for Victor and Columbia. The four titles included here are Williams' only
recorded monologues and as such, are a delightful supplement to the comic
character songs that dominate his recorded legacy and the graceful physical
humor that survives in his few silent film appearances. If the situation comedy
of the two Elder Eatmore sermons was perhaps closer to the material used in
his eight Ziegfeld Follies appearances, the wistful embellishment of the two
simpler gags, "How? Fried!" and "You Can't Do Nothin' Till Martin Gets Here",
better illustrates Williams' legendary ingenuity as a storyteller.
Neither catalogs nor record labels cite the author of "Martin", while
"How? Fried!" is credited on Columbia A6216 to Lucas and may be the work
of Sam "Dad" Lucas (1840-1916), an eminent African-American minstrel
performer. It could not be determined if either of these monologues (or
even the better-known Eatmore sermons) were actually used by Williams on
the stage. Two takes of "Elder Eatmore's Sermon on Generosity" (¡V2 and
¡V3), both recorded on June 27, 1919, were issued as Columbia A6141.
CHARLES (SIDNEY) GILPIN
(Richmond, Virginia, November 20, 1878 - Eldridge Park, New Jersey, May 6, 1930)
An actor, singer, author of several published plays, theatrical manager and
producer, Gilpin is best remembered for creating the role of Brutus Jones in
Eugene O' Neill's The Emperor Jones (Provincetown Playhouse, New York,
November 1, 1920, and revival, 1926), for which he won both the Spingarn
Medal and the Drama League Award. Heywood Broun, reviewing the original
production for the New York Tribune, called it "... the most thrilling
performance we have seen any place this season."
The actor's career began with the Perkus and Davis Great Southern
Minstrel Barn Storming Aggregation in 1896 and later included appearances
with the Canadian Jubilee Singers, Hamilton, Ontario (1903), the Pekin Stock
Company, Chicago (1907-1908), and the Pan American Octette (1911-1913).
Vaudeville and frequent professional activity in Canada occupied him until
his appointment as producer of the Lafayette Players in Harlem, a post
he held from 1916 to 1919. There were also early, minor appearances in
Gus Hill's The Smart Set company (1905), Williams and Walker's Abyssinia
(1906), and Alex Rogers and Henry Creamers' Old Man's Boy (1913), the latter
produced by the Negro Player's Stock Company. Gilpin's critical success as the
preacher, William Custis, in John Drinkwater's Abraham Lincoln (Cort Theater,
December 15, 1919) undoubtedly prompted his casting as Brutus Jones.
Problems of temperament and drink, as well as accusations that he took
unreasonable liberties with the printed script (specifically, with language he
felt might be offensive to blacks), eventually cost Gilpin a 1925 revival of
The Emperor Jones at New York City's 52nd Street Theater (a major success
for Paul Robeson) as well as a proposed part in the first production of Hecht
and MacArthur's The Front Page (1928). By this time, his career was over.
The single side for Arto included here, labeled "A Humorous Address to
the Musicians by Charles Gilpin of Emperor Jones Fame", was also issued
as Cleartone C-120 and is Gilpin's only known recording. He made two
films for the Afro-American Film Company in 1914 and one for the Colored
Players Film Corporation of Philadelphia in 1926, but none of these is in
circulation. Authorship of the Arto monologue and the identity of the voice
that introduces Gilpin are not labeled on either release. The performance
was subsequently reissued as GB Record 2001-B, "Charles S. Gilpin's Address
to the Musicians", matrix 2001-B. Coupled with James Burris' "'Tain't No Place
for Me" (matrix 2001A), as were the Arto and Cleartone originals, this was
probably a private issue, the name derived perhaps from the initials of Gilpin
and Burris. It is not known if GB 2001 consisted of pressings or dubbings.
J.[OHN] ROSAMOND JOHNSON
(Jackson, Florida, August 11, 1873 - New York, November 11, 1954)
A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, Johnson was an
accomplished singer, composer, conductor and arranger, as well as an author
and educator. He appeared in vaudeville early in his career, touring North
America and Europe, but it was in collaboration with lyricists Bob Cole (1868-
1911) and James Weldon Johnson, his brother, that he began to contribute
songs to many major Broadway shows, most notably in the period 1900-1914.
The best known of these, Under the Bamboo Tree, interpolated into Sally in
Our Alley (1902), was an enormous hit, as were many others, including L'il
Gal (1902), immortalized by Paul Robeson, and Since You Went Away (1913).
Lift Every Voice and Sing, lyrics by James Weldon Johnson, became the official
song of the NAACP. In later years, Johnson appeared again as a performer
in the original New York production of Cabin in the Sky (1940) and a major
revival of Porgy and Bess at New York's Majestic Theater on January 22,
1942. He was a noted editor of song anthologies and published The Book
of American Negro Spirituals (1925), The Second Book of Negro Spirituals
(1926), Mountainside Melodies (1934), Library of Negro Music (1935), Rolling
Along in Song (1937) and Album of Negro Spirituals (1940), among others.
The titles included here are Johnson's only known recorded monologs.
Ajax 17061 was also issued under lease as Apex 670, both labels having
been products of the Canadian Campo Co., Ltd.
(Princeton, New Jersey, April 9, 1898 - Philadelphia, January 23, 1976)
Paul Robeson was in many respects the pre-eminent African-American
performer of his generation. His achievements as an actor, concert singer
and social-humanitarian activist were among the most impressive of any
Although his conception of the role always provoked controversy, Robeson
was one of the celebrated Othellos of his day. He undertook Shakespeare's
Moor no less than three times in his long career ¡V in London (Savoy Theatre,
May 19, 1930); in the famous Theater Guild production produced by
Margaret Webster (Schubert Theater, October 19, 1943), the longest running
Shakespearian production in the history of American theater; and in
Stratford-on-Avon under Tony Richardson's direction (Shakespeare Memorial
Theatre, April 7, 1959). A nearly complete 78 rpm studio recording of the
1943 production, with members of the original cast (set M 544, issued in
three volumes), was made for American Columbia in the summer of 1944
and from this, the Act I/iii scene has been drawn. Robeson made only two
earlier spoken-word recordings, both for the Gramophone Company in
London. One of these, the fourth poem of William Blake's Songs of Innocence
(1789), is included here. His recording of Langston Hughes' Freedom Train,
issued privately on a single-sided shellac 78 and labeled 'Produced by |
The Southern Conference | For Human Welfare | 808 Perdido Street | New
Orleans, LA | Freedom Train | A Poem by Langston Hughes | Narrated by Paul
Robeson | Recorded by Permission of | Our World Magazine', is an especially
choice item. The poem, first published in The New Republic (September 1947)
and Our World (October 1947), is announced by Robeson as "Checking the
Freedom Train". This alternate title, coupled with extensive deviations between
the texts as read and as later published, suggests that an early, working
version of the poem is being recited.
Notes by William Shaman
The recordings presented on these cassettes were made between 1908
and 1947 and, as might be expected, vary in quality. Rarity, condition, and
the quality of the original recordings themselves all became major
factors in their presentation. The Booker T. Washington, Charles Gilpin and
J. Rosamond Johnson sides are extremely rare in their original form and
can be found only on poor-quality shellac. To make matters worse, the
copies available to us were not pristine. Robeson's Freedom Train may
exist in only a few copies: the disc used was severely damaged, requiring
computer technology to reduce excessive noise. Both of the sets included,
James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones and Poems by Langston Hughes,
were transcribed from mint copies, though the former, as published, consisted
of dubbings from instantaneous discs and the latter was pressed on inferior
material. Similarly, Charley Case's Father as Scientist was released by Victor
as a mechanical dubbing (designated S/8 in the wax) and could only be
matched approximately to the sound of the other two sides recorded during
the same session.
Little was done initially to alter the sound of the original recordings but,
ultimately, an effort to make them accessible to as large an audience as
possible was seen as the most logical compromise.
William Shaman and Peter Adamson
Last Albums Viewed
Voices of Black America