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Fri, 01.12.1894

Mabel Ridley, Mezzo-Soprano born

*The birth of Mabel Ridley is celebrated on this date in 1894. She was a Black mezzo-soprano singer who appeared in Broadway theatre and revues in the 1920s and 1930s.

Mabel Ridley was born in Augusta, Georgia, to Charles and Katherine Ridley in January 1894. Back in 1843, on their marriage, her grandparents, Ulysses Ridley and Antoinette (Dugas) Ridley had been recorded as free people of color. Ridley had two sisters, Julia and Antoinette. Ridley later said that her first language was Gullah and her second was English. Her family was Black Catholics who had been in the area for several generations. Ridley attended Augusta's Haines Institute, which Black educator Lucy Craft Laney founded. The school nurtured her musical abilities, and after she left, she moved to New York.

Early on, Ridley appeared in several productions by the Tutt Brothers, including a touring musical, Non-Sense (1925), and two touring revues, Rainbow Chasers (1925) and Everybody's Talking (1925). Also, in 1926, she appeared in the musical revue Desires of 1927, which Andy Razaf co-wrote. In 1927, she appeared in the touring vaudeville revue Miss Bandanna by Clarence Muse and starring Moms Mabley.

In 1929, she appeared on Broadway in another Tutt Brothers production, the musical comedy Deep Harlem, which took as its subject black history in America from slavery through the 1920s. It featured music by Joe Jordan, and Ridley played several roles in the show, including Princess Ola. Underfunded, it closed quickly, and Ridley shortly after that joined a revue, Ebony Show Boat, that opened in Harlem, toured to Philadelphia, and then returned to New York.

A year later, Ridley performed in the first run of The Green Pastures. That same year, she performed with the Heaven Gate Singers in Scarlet Sister Mary. This play is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by South Carolina author Julia Peterkin and starring Ethel Barrymore in blackface. The last role Ridley played was Clara in a Charleston, South Carolina, production of Porgy and Bess.

Ridley died in New York on April 18, 1938. An estimated 3,000 people attended her funeral. Students from the Peter Pan Dancing School, where she taught, performed a song. Members of the newly formed Negro Actors Guild also took part. A second funeral was held on April 24 at the Immaculate Conception Church in Augusta. She is buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery in that city.

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