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Elizabeth T. Greenfield
On this date, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born in 1817. She was a Black singer whose exceptional voice made her a popular performer in Great Britain.
Taylor was born a slave in Natchez, Mississippi and as a child accompanied her mistress to Philadelphia, PA. When her mistress joined the Society of Friends and freed her slaves, Elizabeth chose to remain with her and to take her surname, Greenfield. Encouraged by Mrs. Greenfield, she began to develop her natural musical talent. She continued to study music after Mrs. Greenfield's death in 1845, eventually focusing on singing. In 1851, Elizabeth Greenfield gave her first public performances, in Buffalo, NY. Soon afterwards, she made a concert tour of several cities, including Boston and Chicago.
A testimonial concert in March 1853, arranged by friends in Buffalo, raised funds for a trip to Europe for additional training. Her London manager, handling a British concert tour for her, defaulted, leaving her stranded. She sought and received help from Lord Shaftesbury, the recently arrived Harriet Beecher Stowe, and from the Duchess of Sutherland, who became her special patron. She gave her first London performance in May 1853, and sang in several cities in England and Ireland.
Greenfield's voice was full, resonant, with remarkable range and made more striking by her plain appearance and the charm of her imperfect training. Warmly dubbed "the Black Swan" by enthusiastic followers, she sang for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1854. Despite her popularity, she was financially unable to continue her vocal studies, and in July 1854, she returned to America.
Settling back in Philadelphia, she became a vocal teacher and for some years gave occasional concerts. Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield died on March 31, 1876, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York