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Jules Bledsoe was born on this date in 1897. He was a Black classical baritone and composer.
Born in Waco, Texas, he was the son of Henry L. and Jessie (Cobb) Bledsoe. He attended Central Texas Academy in Waco from about 1905 until his graduation as class valedictorian in 1914. He then attended Bishop College in Marshall, where he earned a B.A. in 1918. He was a member of the ROTC at Virginia Union University in Richmond in 1918-19, and studied medicine at Columbia University in New York City between 1920 and 1924.
While attending Columbia, he studied voice with Claude Warford, Luigi Parisotti, and Lazar Samoiloff. His professional singing debut occurred on April 20, 1924, at Aeolian Hall in New York. As a concert singer, Bledsoe performed in the United States and Europe. He was praised for his ability to sing in several languages, for his vocal control and range, and for his command to communicate through music.
He is best-known for his portrayal of Joe in the 1927 production of Jerome Kern's "Showboat." His interpretation of "Ol' Man River" made the song an American classic. In his career, Bledsoe performed with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players (1926), the BBC Symphony in London (1936), and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (1937). He also sang in vaudeville, on radio, and in opera. He sang the role of Amonasro in Giuseppe Verdi's "Anda" with the Cleveland Stadium Opera (1932), the Chicago Opera Company at the Hippodrome in New York (1933), and the Cosmopolitan Opera Company, also at the Hippodrome (1934).
A highlight of his career was his title role for the European premiere, in Amsterdam, of Louis Gruenberg's opera "The Emperor Jones" (1934). In 1940 and 1941, Bledsoe worked in films. He played the part of Kalu in "Drums of the Congo," and, although his name did not appear in the credits, he probably played in "Safari," "Western Union," and "Santa Fe Trail."
He wrote several patriotic songs, spirituals, and folk songs, including "Does Ah Luv You?" (1931), "Pagan Prayer,""Good Old British Blue" on a poem by Countee Cullen (1936); and "Ode to America" (1941). He wrote an opera, "Bondage" (1939), based on the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin." His "African Suite," a set of four songs for voice and orchestra, was featured by the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Jules Bledsoe died from a cerebral hemorrhage on July 14, 1943 in Hollywood. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Waco.
Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians.
Jules Bledsoe Papers, Texas Collection, Baylor University.
Maud Cuney-Hare, Negro Musicians and Their Music (Washington: Associated Publishers, 1936).
Lynnette Geary, The Career and Music of Jules Bledsoe (M.Mus. thesis, Baylor University, 1982).
Dayton Kelley, ed.,
The Handbook of Waco and McLennan County, Texas
(Waco: Texan, 1972).