Today in Texas History – April 20

From the Annals of the Singers – In 1924, Jules Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe made his professional singing debut at Aeolian Hall in New York  under the sponsorship of impresario Sol Hurok. The  Waco-born African-American baritone was 27 at the time.  After graduating as valedictorian from  Central Texas Academy in Waco he earned a B.A. from Bishop College in Marshall.  He also attended Virginia Union College from 1918 to 1919, and studied medicine at Columbia University. Bledsoe’s first love, however, was music which he studied throughout his academic career.  Bledsoe sang with the Chicago Opera, and in New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna and Brussels among others.  His best-known achievement, however, was his portrayal of Joe in Florenz Ziegfeld’s 1927 production of Jerome Kern’s Showboat. His interpretation of “Ol’ Man River” made the song an American classic. A highlight of his career was his performance in the title role for the European premiere, in Amsterdam, of Louis Gruenberg’s opera The Emperor Jones (1934). Bledsoe also wrote an opera, Bondage (1939), based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

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