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Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast, I'm Holly Fry, and I'm Tracy Wilson. So we have talked at number of times on the show about how we collect and manage our topic lists. And there are times I know for me when I come across something in the wild and I just scribble it down and then I don't have any idea what that was about. Right. And I think you mentioned a similar thing happening recently, Tracy.


I did so a few days back. I was reviewing a notebook that I have recently been using to keep my to do list and my schedule's in because I kind of do I'm reticent to call it a bullet journal. It's really just like my weird if Falkiner kept a bullet journal kind of stream of consciousness of, like, all my to do stuff. So it's at least in one place for the important things. And then I go back and I review them and make sure I've captured anything that needs to get carried over into the next one.


And I'm a little slow to do it with my transfer from one to the next this time. But I was looking over this last book and in literally in a margin sideways, I had just written the word Sister Rita, and I didn't know what it was. I couldn't remember where it came from. So I looked it up and I sure am glad I did, because it turns out that at some point in the last several months, I had apparently stumbled across Sister Rita Jones, who was a black, operatic and popular music singer in the early 20th century, and she was very famous in her day.


But then she kind of vanished from the papers and all press coverage when she retired in her last years were lived in relative obscurity, which meant that when she died, nobody really knew very much about it. And it didn't get a lot of coverage and she really hadn't been as celebrated throughout history as she certainly deserves. So she is due for a little bit of attention and that's what we are talking about today.


Matilda sister Etta Joyner was born January 5th, 1868, in Portsmouth, Virginia. We don't have any recording or anything of how she said her own name. I've heard people say it's just Loreta and Syreeta. We're just going to stick with this, Loretta, for the sake of consistency, the date of that also has some question marks because some records have 1869 rather than 1868 is the birth year is Loretta was born into a religious family. Her father, Jeremiah Malachi Joyner, who went by Jerry, had been enslaved at birth but was a free man when Saradha was born.


He worked as a carpenter and as a minister at the African Methodist Church. Her mother, Henrietta, worked as a washerwoman and also sang in the church choir. Loretta went by both Matilda and Cissy with her family. Yeah, we'll talk about her name a little bit more in just a bit. And we should also mention, it's worth noting that she was born just a few years after the civil war ended. So like at a time when the the country was really going through significant change.


Jerian Henrietta had two more children in addition to Sister Etta, but both of them died when they were still young. In 1876, after the loss of sister and his brother, the family moved to Providence, Rhode Island. Jerry had been offered a position at a church in Providence, and he saw this as an opportunity for a better life in this other state. Sister Rita was enrolled once they moved at meeting ST Primary School, which was integrated as we're all Rhode Island schools, following the passing of a statute by the Rhode Island General Assembly on March 7th, 1866, that had stated that, quote, no distinction be made on account of the race or color of the applicant.


So it seems like at this point, the joiner's were really settling into a stable community that had better opportunities than they'd had back in Virginia, but things were strained at home. We don't really know the specifics of the situation, but by 1878, the threat, his parents were living separately and she was living with her mother. The joiner's formerly divorced more than a decade later in 1889, court records indicate that Gerry had accused his wife of adultery. It's not really clear how much involvement Gerry had in the senator's life after the joiner's separated.


But while the loss of siblings and moving in this tumultuous family life were part of her early years, there was one thing that had been consistent for just about as long as she could make noise. And that was that sister Rita saying she loved to sing. She would later say to a reporter, quote, When I was a little girl, just a wee slip of a tad, I used to go about singing. I guess I must have been a bit of a nuisance then, for my mouth was open all the time.


In addition to just singing on her own whenever she could. She sang at school. She sang in church. She sang at events for school and church.


Everyone could hear that she had a really exceptional voice even when she was a child. She described being nervous about performing initially when she was young, but then, as she put it, quote, Timidity was soon replaced by competence. And somewhere along the line, someone talked to Henrietta about how beneficial it would be for Sister Etta to get formal training for her natural talent. There's a story that she told later in life that someone at church was like, your little girl just hit a high C, please find her a school.


And so in 1883, fifteen year old sister Rita started taking lessons at the Providence Academy of Music. It is a little unclear how these lessons were paid for.


Henrietta would have had a very hard time covering this cost, but as a consequence, there's been some speculation about whether someone from the community may have helped out with money or even perhaps people in church kind of contributed into a fund or if there was some other arrangement at the school. But we really don't know.


In addition to the start of her formal training, Saradha also had another major life change at 15, when she rather suddenly married a hotel. Porter, who worked at the Narragansett Hotel. His name was David Richard Jones. So Serota actually lied on her marriage license. She said that she was eighteen and her new husband was twenty one. Seven months into the marriage, the Joneses had a child that was a daughter that they named Mabel. Adelina and Sister Ida, though, did not give up her singing lessons.


David, who had worked his way up from that Porter position to a waiter position at the hotel, continued to work to support them, and Henrietta assisted with child care so they could make this whole thing work. And they all lived together at Henrietta's house.


Not only was the Loretta studying, she was also performing regularly at church concerts, as well as in small, secular performances. Sometimes her name was listed for these as Mrs. Richard Jones. And one thing to note about names here, we've been referring to the singer as the Syreeta. But for the early part of her career, she used her first name, Matilda, as well as Mrs. Richard Jones or Matilda Jones. We're using the name that she became famous for to keep things kind of consistent because.


There are a number of different ways she was billed, one of which is really famous, but also pretty gross, and we will get to that in just a bit when she herself made this switch.


So she appeared in 1885 at the Providence Armory Hall alongside established singer Flora Batson. And Batson really offered a glimpse of possibility to surrender regarding her potential career. Flora, at this point was breaking the color barrier and performing in front of white audiences, singing classical music and not the expected, jokey and often demeaning minstrel material that had been the only avenue available for black performers for a long time. And this also offered Sister Rita a look at the possibility of having a real career in music at a time when a lot of black women were really only able to find employment as domestic workers or just doing things like taking in laundry in December of 1885.


She got the chance to perform with another black singer who similarly was expanding her career beyond what was expected. And that was Marie Silico was famous and being billed in a concert with her was a really big deal. And eventually the three singers batsmen's Seleka and Jones would be constantly compared to one another in the press. But just as the Saradha was really getting some acclaim and some name recognition and her daughter Mabel got sick and Mabel did not recover. She died in February 1886 at the age of two, and the cause of death was listed as pharyngitis and croup for several months.


Sister Etta stopped all performing and grieved, but by late spring she was ready to sing again. And at that point she started to once again perform in concerts around Providence. In the fall of that year, there was more training, although the particulars around that are a little bit unclear. We know that since Loretta traveled to Boston, according to an article from the time it was to study at the Boston Conservatory of Music. But other write ups that were published after the fact say that she was trained at the New England Conservatory of Music.


There's really no corroborating evidence for either version of this story, though she doesn't appear in the records of the New England Conservatory and the Boston Conservatory. His records have not survives to be checked. Yeah, so we don't know because this it is possible that she could have studied at the New England Conservatory and just not been noted as a student, like as a aside deal with one of the teachers. We just have no idea what happened there. But by the end of 1886, Jones had completed her studies in Boston and she was back in Providence once again giving performances.


She and her husband had a lot more in mind for her, though. She started appearing on regional tours, often with Flora Batson. And in 1888, she made her New York City debut in a concert with Batson at Steinway Hall that was at a benefit for the Oddfellows building fund. A lot of her early performances like this were benefits. Sister Etta was billed as the rising soprano of Providence in the concert ended in the red because inclement weather kept people from attending.


But the reviews of Jones in particular were glowing. And this led to a similar concert booking in Philadelphia soon after. So it's unclear which of these shows that talent agent William Ryazan saw. But he was really impressed with this Loretta, when he did see her. And this led to a contract with his agency, which was Abbey soulful. And Grou hasn't had quite a plan in mind for her.


And we're going to pause here for a word from our sponsors. And when we come back, we will talk about the whirlwind tour that Sister Anna found herself on in 1888. This episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class is brought to you by Xfinity you connect more devices than ever to your Wi-Fi, which is why you can tell a lot about a person by what they connect. Are you a gamer, a streamer, a live video broadcaster or a smart homer?


Not sure what you call that, but whoever you are, your wi fi needs to keep up and that means speed, security and reliability. And that's why Xfinity is dedicated to making sure all three are getting better all the time. They're constantly developing new technology for faster Wi-Fi speeds. They're committed to keeping your Wi-Fi safe and secure no matter what you connect to it. And they're always innovating to make sure all these connections are reliable because no one likes a Wi-Fi disruption, especially the gamers.


So you just keep on being you keep on streaming, chatting, gaming and smart housing because Xfinity will always be there to serve up Wi-Fi speeds that are up to the task. And then some Xfinity The Future of Awesome.


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On August 1st, 1888 to Cerita Jones attended her first rehearsal with the Tennessee Jubilee Singers, this was an all black group of musicians and singers, and they were leaving the next day for a tour through the Caribbean and South America. Members of the press had been invited to hear the group perform after just a small amount of rehearsal on that same day. And once again, Sister Rita's voice captivated them. So it's from the coverage of this event that it seems like she got the nickname that stuck with her for the rest of her life.


This is the nickname she really disliked, and that was the black Patti Smith nickname was a reference to Italian opera singer Adelina Patti, who was really famous at the time. She's still one of the most celebrated Sopranos in opera history. Jones would later tell a reporter that the reason she disliked this name was that she felt like it might make people think she was comparing herself as an equal to this famous singer. What she really wanted to do was to make her own name without using the appeal of someone else.


Did not help that her tour manager seized on the nickname and used it to promote the tour that she had signed on for. I mentioned this to Holly before we got in here looking at pictures of her. So many of them are labeled as Black Patty rather than with her actual name.


Oh, yeah. And he I mean, every one of her managers used that because it was a ticket draw. We'll talk about it a little bit more. It's horrifying. The other two singers that we mentioned, Batson and Sleekest, similarly, were called other things related to Adelina Patti. I think one of them was sometimes called Kriol Patty. And I don't remember the other one offhand, but it was just like a very common thing and a little bit gross because it completely demeaned these three black women who were phenomenal talents.


Yeah, we'll talk about that some more in a bit.


So this contract that Jones had signed was for two years. Keep in mind, she was only 20 at this time. She had not traveled very far and she suddenly found herself as the star in an international tour. And on August 2nd, the day after that one day of rehearsal, she boarded the steamer Athos, along with her fellow performers, her husband and their tour manager, James R. Smith, who was white. And they all headed to their first stop in Jamaica.


They stayed in Jamaica until October because they kept selling out their shares and they went on to Panama. Their stay there was a lot shorter than anticipated because they had low sales numbers was kind of the opposite experience. But by November, they were back in Jamaica. Then they moved on to Barbados. Barbados loved her so much that the governor and citizens of Bridgetown presented her with a gold medal. And this was the start of a trend in Trinidad.


She was given another medal. And when they got to Guyana, which was at the time British Guiana, they had to cancel the first performance because most of the performers were terribly seasick. They had had a rough ride on the way and they just could not make that first show. And after a rough start and weak initial turnout, which was by some attributed to racism and by others just a mix up of what was actually going on with the booking, Madame Jones, as she preferred to be called, received a third gold medal.


As the tour continued, she continued to be adored by audiences right up until the group made their return to New York. That happened in February of 1889. They had met with such great success, and by the time she got back to the US, Jones had been given eight different medals as well as other gifts. But they also experienced a lot of racism in these travels. In some cities that racism impacted their ticket sales and others. They had been turned away from hotels, but this was a profitable venture, so their bosses were happy.


Smith gave interviews.


This was, again, the tour manager where he talked about a planned tour for Europe. But then everything changed when he abruptly sold the rights to the Tennessee Jubilee Singers concerts to a man named George M. Dusenberry. And the reason for this sudden split was accounted for very differently by the parties involved. Smith said that the performers had become combative with him and that they refused to give him any credit in their success. Several of the performers, when they were asked questions about it, told a very different story, saying that Smith was not paying for all of their expenses as had been stipulated in their contract.


And that turned out to be the truth. They had paperwork to back that up, and when the dust all settled, their contract was cancelled and the performers all went their separate. AZ, I feel like this is a dispute that we would see happen now it plays out over and over throughout Securitas career with various troops, but also, yes, it continues to be like a career in the arts often involves. Issues with business dealings now after appearing in a number of concerts back in Providence since Loretta started a new tour, she was reunited with one of the singers from the Tennessee Jubilee Group.


That was Lewis Brown. They started a new tour, this time with the black manager named Benjamin Lightfoot. The itinerary took them through Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Delaware and Connecticut. This time, their name was Cottee's Star Concert Company. Lewis Brown did not complete the tour, though, and was replaced. And Jones's husband, David, added two dates at the end in Baltimore. They wrapped up this tour at the end of June 1889.


Yeah, they were definitely reaching a point where her life was kind of like one tour after another and they had a false start for an Autumn 1889 tour of the West Indies that would have been managed by Florence Williams, who had worked as a reporter for the New York Age. So Sister Rita continued to sing instead throughout the U.S. Northeast on bookings that had been arranged by her husband, David. But in the spring of 1890, those contract disputes that had ended the fall plans were revisited, and soon Williams and the Joneses were able to come to an agreement under the name the New York Star Concert Company.


They left for Jamaica in March, although the name change to the star Tennessee Jubilee Singers on the way to their first destination. Williams was able to write up the tour as it went for publication in the New York age, and this tour was a great success.


Audiences had remembered the Saradha. They were eagerly anticipating her return. By the time they got back to New York in July of 1891, the Saradha had been applauded by heads of state and given more lavish gifts than on her first Caribbean and South American tour.


And because of the press that had been picking up those New York age stories and then publishing them again in other places throughout that tour that was going home. So when she got home. Jones actually had even more buzz than when she left. She gave concerts in New York, Brooklyn and Philadelphia when she returned, often selling out. And in the case of an October 8th, 1891 show that took place in Brooklyn, they had to add seats to the aisles to accommodate the oversold crowds.


And it turned out, as some attendees just had to stand for the entire show because there was just nowhere left to sit.


This is also when she switched over to using her middle name, Cerita, instead of going by Matilda. And this was a name that she just thought sounded more musical.


Yeah, not not any other Sister Sarita's going around, so it also just made her stand out. And this also marks the period where she received her first invitation to perform at the White House on February 24th of 1892. She sang at a lunchtime concert there for President Harrison and his guests, although how she was invited and how this whole thing came to be was completely unknown. Any correspondence about this request has been lost. And she is also said to have sung for three other presidents.


But similarly, details on those appearances and how they were arranged has also been lost.


She did decide that she would wear all those medals that she had been gifted on tour while she sang. They were pinned on to her bodice. And this would become a really iconic look for the singer. Her appearances in D.C., both for the White House and for general audiences, also got a lot of press coverage. A lot of this coverage, though, was pretty problematic because it praises her, but it's also inherently racist, kind of summing up to this idea of she's black, but she's also pretty and very talented.


Yeah, it's a reading.


Those is a little stomach churning because it is sort of like in spite of the fact that she is this, she's also this.


So we're fine with it. It's really also in that tone that's very pat yourself on the back for accepting someone else. It's a gross, gross tone. But the outcome of this ongoing rise in recognition that Jones was getting was a very major booking. She was given top billing at the 1892 Grand African Jubilee at Madison Square Garden. This was a three day event at the end of April of that year. And when Sister Rita took the stage, that meant that she was appearing before a mixed race audience.


An estimated thirty seven hundred of the 5000 audience members that were present were white. She wore a pale gray gown. She had all of her medals once again pinned on to her bodice, and she opened her performance with a selection from the opera Robert Dhiab, which was one of the first of the Paris Opera's grand operas. She also sang Swanee River and an assortment of other songs. And when she finished, the crowd gave her a standing ovation. She returned to the stage later in the evening with a selection from La Traviata and once again had the delight of the audience.


And after the. She was asked to give an interview in her dressing room for the New York Herald, which she did, and the next day, while some performances of the Jubilee got mixed or even bad reviews, Sister Rita singing was praised universally. The write up in the New York Dramatic Mirror read that the evening quote would be worthy of little note were it not that it brought to the attention of New Yorkers. A singer who leaving her color altogether out of the question, has one of the most pleasing soprano voices ever heard in this city.


Another Write-up stated that and I love this the soul of a nightingale seems to have lodged in that throat. This reminds me of the way that people talk about Jenny Lind. Mm hmm. Although Jenny Lind is way more famous name today, probably because of racism. But like a similar focus on like what a beautiful nightingale like. Voice she had. Madison Square Garden performance is the moment in the Syreeta Jones's career that really marks the shift. It had a very significant before and after this moment.


She later said, quote, I woke up famous after singing at the garden and didn't know it.


Sister Rita's voice was undeniably spectacular. We unfortunately do not have any recordings of it. And I wish we did because the way people talk about it is rhapsodic.


And the thing is, everybody kind of recognized that she would have been able to handle operatic roles, which is something that she wanted to do. And there were even rumors that she was being considered for roles at the Met and with other companies. But opera companies at this point, we're not going to hire black singers, even for roles that were actually written as black characters. And aside from the racism in casting, there was this other problem, which is that there were plenty of other performers that were already established who had made clear that they would not ever appear on the stage with a black opera singer.


She sang in numerous concerts after that night at the Garden, but it was two months later that promoter Major James B. Pond reached out to her about managing her career. She agreed, and soon she was on a one year contract with him. Pond was a really big deal because the agency handled people like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens on their tours.


So this really seems like a step up in June of 1890 to Jones saying in the lower level venue at Carnegie Hall for a benefit concert, not the main stage. This appearance happened very, very shortly after she signed her contract with Pond. And it seems most likely that it had been booked before he was managing her performance schedule.


Ponte booked a group of white European musicians versus ready to perform with. This is the first time that she had not been part of an all black group of performers, and he kept them all really busy. This also marked a shift from performing for primarily black audiences to primarily white crowds, she noted to a reporter when asked about the shifting demographic of her ticket buyers. Quote, I do not feel as much at home with them yet. I am a little shy, lest they should not like me.


But so far they have proved most kind. Pond famously booked Sister Etta at the Pittsburgh Exposition in September of 1892. This was a week long booking and she gave concerts for thousands of people each day, usually doing one in the afternoon and one in the evening.


And on her final night at the expo booking, the venue was so packed and so stifling as a consequence that several people are said to have fainted. And when it was over, she was applauded for a full five minutes.


The expo continued after that first week, and Jones went on to perform in other East Coast venues. Then the expo manager begged Pond to book her for another week there at the expo. And this was really no small ask. As part of the terms of the second week of Expo appearances, the Expo manager had to buy out all the other appearances that she had been scheduled for that week. But she was a big enough draw that it was worth it.


So they did exactly that, she said. To have commanded a two thousand dollar fee for the week, which was enormous for the time, and particularly so for a black performer.


At the start of 1893, Sister Rita was booked at the Central Music Hall in Chicago and she was still being promoted as black Patti during this time and for the rest of her career. And she still disliked it. But it did help draw crowds, although a critic noted in Chicago that the name kind of had a negative impact on the audience's impression of her work, like he just felt like it set up this weird framing of it that was unnecessary. But regardless of whether ticket buyers merely went out of curiosity and draw of that name or because they knew about her and knew she was a gifted singer, she continued to win audiences over with her beautiful voice and incredibly expressive performance, moving from operatic pieces to popular songs and back.


Although in Chicago she did get a handful of harsher critiques than she was usually accustomed to.


That same year in 1893, Jones sang on the main stage at Carnegie Hall as part of a fund raiser for a project helmed by composer Will. Marion Cook is attempting to stage an all black opera titled Scenes from Uncle Tom's Cabin at the upcoming World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Yes, she agreed to be part of that opera. She also agreed to be part of this fundraiser. Like her name, being attached to it was really helping it get support. But then during a performance in Louisville, Kentucky, that year, she encountered this very strange set up of segregated seating that really bothered her enough that she mentioned it in an interview while she was in the city.


The orchestra seating at this particular venue was reserved exclusively for white patrons and the gallery was for black patrons. But because this particular concert had not drawn much of a white audience, she sang. To a hall that was half empty at her level while the gallery above was full and the black attendees were not allowed to move down to the empty orchestra seats, and she was quoted as saying, I have never met with anything like it before. I think people of my race ought not to be shut out that way.


On April 25th, 1893, her manager Pond filed a motion to prevent Jones from appearing in concert unless he had arranged it. This happened because she and David had technically broken their contract by booking a couple of side gigs, but as this case unfolded, it turned into this ugly back and forth between the Joneses and Pond, including sworn affidavit that porn's own boss had told them the terms of their contract couldn't be fulfilled by the company. This case dragged out into the summer with first a ruling in favor of the Joneses and then a second ruling in favor of porn.


So though this strained the relationship, Cerita saying only when Pond arranged for it and then in exchange, he had to pay her one hundred and fifty dollars a week since the country was entering a financial depression. The case could be made that this outcome was kind of favorable to the singer, at least just in strict financial terms.


Yeah, it offered some stability at a time when bookings were not necessarily going to be as consistent because the people just couldn't afford tickets to go to shows. So going back to that all black opera, when the World's Columbian Exposition was supposed to see the premiere of scenes from Uncle Tom's Cabin, Sister Rita was not at the expo. Neither were many of the other prominent black performers or speakers as the date had approached, which had been named Colored Folks Day by Expo officials who wanted to turn the premiere into a bigger themed event.


Criticisms over how the expo had handled the entire thing and its prejudice treatment of black participants and attendees led a lot of the promised speakers and performers to cancel. The opera did not happen, and in fact, Sister Rita was booked for another show in New York. And although there had been advance notice of her cancellation, a crowd still came to see her in a huge, confused and largely concocted set of stories emerged about why she wasn't there. She did sing at that expo, although not for another month, and she did manage to pack the house despite that earlier kerfuffle.


So apparently audiences did not hold the whole confusion against her.


So we're about to get to another new phase of this, Loretta's career, where she joins a new manager and goes on an international tour. But first, we can hear from the sponsors that help keep stuff you missed in history class going. This episode is brought to you by Comcast because of covid-19 Internet traffic has spiked, but Comcast is prepared. They've created a powerful network with one simple purpose to keep customers connected. Since twenty seventeen, Comcast has invested 12 billion dollars to grow and evolve a smart, reliable network.


And now, with many of us working, learning and entertaining at home, their coverage has helped millions of people stay connected when they need it most. Learn more at Comcast Dotcom Network. By mid eighteen ninety four, for reasons that are unknown, the relationship between Pond and the Joneses was severed and sister at his schedule was then being managed by a man named Rudolf. Vocal and vocal sister Rita went on a tour of Europe, which is something she had wanted for a very long time.


The new company, the vocal formed was called the Black Patty Concert Company, and that company staged its first performance, consisting entirely of classical pieces at Carnegie Hall on November 18th, 1894. So after a number of concerts in the New York area and then the surrounding states, their European tour began on February 11th, 1895, as they headed to their first show in Berlin.


The reviews were just wonderful. One German reviewer wrote, quote, Her voice has power and fire, and the florid passages remind one of the rapid flow of a mountain brook. There was also a lot of talk about her appearance in the press, including, again, many cringe inducing discussions of whether she should be called black Patti, because she appeared to be of mixed race in their opinion.


Yeah, there was so much discussion about the shade of her skin and what that meant and. It's gross. You talk a little bit more about it in our behind the scenes, but those descriptions are upsetting her reviews when she got to London. We're a little bit more critical. There were some more direct comparisons to Adelina. Patti and Jones was found lacking by some reviewers. Not all this was also the period where she started to tell the press that she did not like that nickname Black Patty, because to her it made her seem full of herself.


After London, Jones continued to move through Europe, appearing in Paris before moving on to Monte Carlo and Milan and then going back to Germany. The entire tour had been different from her work before this and that she was billed not only with other musical acts, but with more of a vaudevillian mix of performers. She did the same when she returned to the U.S., initially appearing at Procter's Pleasure Palace on Twenty Third Street and Manhattan for an extended arrangement. So at this point, you know, you're with like comedians and jugglers and animal trick acts and all kinds of things.


This is all going pretty well, though. But after the Plessy vs. Ferguson case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896, which of course upheld segregation as constitutional, it pretty quickly became more and more difficult for black performers to book concert halls the way Sister Rita had before she left Europe. And that impacted her career considerably.


So soon, Sister Etta was touring with a new company, and it's not clear who proposed the idea for this company. In some accounts, it's David Jones and others it's Rudolf Vocal. Regardless of who came up with the idea, though, soon Sister Etta was touring with the Black Patti Troubadours, and this offered her a regular income and some stability, although maybe not the grandeur of her previous engagements. She was making roughly twenty thousand dollars a year and that was the most of any black entertainer during this period.


Yeah, there were definitely lots of discussions about how rich she was in the press, which the most for any black entertainer. But there were still other entertainers making more. But because this horrendous voice was universally acclaimed and she had made this transition to, you know, kind of a touring comedy troupe, almost more than than these, you know, very slightly more highbrow concert situations. An interviewer in 1896 asked her if she would ever consider just disguising herself as white or lighter skinned to pursue the career that she could have easily had if racism had not maintained this barrier to opera.


She responded, quote, Try to hide my race and deny my own people. Oh, I would never do that. I am proud of belonging to them and I would not hide what I am, even for an evening. There were also questions posed to her about the possibility of playing roles in opera that had historically been white singers in roles that were written as black, such as in Maya Behar's. Laughter Can. There was some discussion that maybe that could open up an avenue for some black performers, but she said that she was just too busy with her touring career to make that work.


And whether she was sidestepping having a bigger conversation about race on the opera stage, we don't know, although it does kind of seem that way. She was pretty careful to avoid those questions.


So this new constantly touring phase of her career started. It was less grand than the days that had gone before, and her marriage was also landing in its last phase. There had been hints over the years that she and David might have been having some problems and that those problems might have stemmed, at least in part, from the ease with which their money seemed to just pass through his hands. In 1898, sister Etta filed for divorce on the basis of drunkenness and nonsupport with the black Patti Troubadours.


Jones toured for 19 years, traveling all over the US, also Canada and some other places on a seemingly nonstop revolving door of bookings. And though this was a stable career and she was, as we said, the highest paid black performer at the time, there were also plenty of problems. For example, she and her fellow performers often could not stay in hotels. They were not given rooms. This was, of course, problematic, particularly because when you're touring and you're exhausted and you just want to sleep, the last thing you need is to be told you can't.


I know when we've done tours, if somebody had told me you can't have this hotel room, I would have cried. So I feel like singing at the level she was. That is even more exhausting. So eventually a vocal arrange to have a luxury train car purchase for the company and that essentially became their home. It was very, very large. It had I think I had read 10 compartments as well as to kind of come. And seating areas where they would all hang out together, these vaudevillian productions featured broad comedy and musical performances that often appeased audiences with acts that really played into racist stereotypes.


But that was really the only way they could get continued bookings. What it was this horrendous time to take the stage, though, which was the last segment of the show, the tone of everything changed considerably, even though she was the main name on the show. She did not appear until the end. And for this section, she went almost strictly with opera selections. Many of these were Arias from composers like Verdi, and over time, the staging of these sections of the show grew grander and more complex, with audiences essentially getting treated to a mini opera that included lavish costumes and beautiful sets, as well as a full supporting chorus in this segment came to be known as the operatic kaleidoscope.


There were plenty of ups and downs during those 19 years. Early on, there were ongoing legal battles with James Bond over money that he still owed the Joneses. There were disputes among the performers. At one point there was a huge falling out between the tour managers and the stage manager, Bob Cole, who also composed music for the show. Co-stars came and went. The supporting cast shifted around reviews, became less consistently ebullient and more mixed over time. But it was consistent work, and the troubadours rolled out a new show for each theatrical season, and they kept drawing in crowds.


And over time the show evolved. One of the big things was that they phased out those holdout racist stereotypes from the minstrel shows of the 19th century. It had also had a name change. In 1999, it became the Black PADI musical comedy company, and at that point they started staging three act performances that featured Sister Rita acting as well as singing vocal remained as the manager.


He was well respected, well-liked and had a reputation for treating the performers well and ensuring that they had whatever they needed and that they were taking care of. He also kept them booked and busy working on the road forty to forty five weeks a year.


The 1914 to 1915 season of the show finally hit a stumbling block too large to power through. There had been some rumors that the company was having financial troubles. Volkow had denied those. But the thing that actually catalyzed the end was a report that several members of the cast had been drunk during a performance in Memphis. Once this news got out, other venues were unwilling to book them, and disputes over monies owed from that last show tanked the entire enterprise.


Suddenly, Madame Jones, in her mid to late 40s, was without the job that had made up the bulk of her income for almost two decades.


The timing, though, was sort of fortuitous throughout her career, and particularly as she gained success since Loretta had remained very close to her mother and she was sure to help take care of her financially, just as Henrietta had taken care of her and the family after she'd gotten married as a teenager before and after tours. And as often as she could manage, she would travel to Providence to visit her mother. And in 1915, when this whole blowup happened with the touring company, sister and his mother was ill and sister Rita was kind of ready to retire so that she could take care of her.


So Madame Jones gave her last performance in New York at the Lafayette Theatre in the fall of 1915. And then she all but vanished from public life.


She moved into the house that her mother lived in with her second husband, Daniel Crenshaw. When Henrietta died in 1925, sister Etta stayed and Crenshaw did as well.


And then the story gets really blurry. There's just not a lot of documentation about what Jones's life was like during those years. There are some varied and contradictory accounts from various people. She may have taken work as a cook. She may have adopted children. She may have been regularly visited by a number of celebrity friends. We really don't have anything to corroborate the memories that were shared by various people over time.


We do know that Sister Etta slowly sold off her jewelry and her other valuables that she had acquired during her performing career to kind of keep herself afloat and basically finance the remainder of her life. But towards the very end, she had run out of valuables and she actually had to have some help from the president of the local NAACP chapter, William Freeman, to meet her bills and keep things running.


On June 24th, 1933, the Saradha died at the age of 65 from cancer, had started in her stomach and spread to her liver. She was buried at Grace Church Cemetery near her mother, and that was arranged by Mr. Freeman, although there was no headstone there until twenty eighteen when one was. Crowdfunded in 2012, a plaque was erected to mark the location of the home in Rhode Island near where Cicero lived, spearheaded by the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society.


So in recent years, she's gotten a little bit more attention again. I'm so glad that you chose the subject because I had never, ever heard of her. Yeah, I like I said, I had that scribbled note and I didn't remember what it was even until I went back and looked her up again. You can't help us sort of fall in love with her. She's really an interesting figure. She is. We'll talk about it some more in our Friday episode.


But she was so sort of quietly breaking a lot of color barriers without pointing out that she was doing it. It was almost like her approach was to be really sly about it and then just accept it as the norm, which is pretty interesting, just pretty wonderful. I have a brief listener mail, mostly because I want to congratulate this person.


Lisa wrote us to say, I want to thank you and past hosts for all of the wonderful podcasts, I switched to a new teaching job two and a half years ago. And today, on my birthday of all days, I finished the last of the past episodes. I love how each of the host makes history so exciting. There's no way I can pick my favorite episode. But I love your music related episodes. She is a music teacher. Any sad royal story and of course, Victorian or Regency era history attached is a picture of her in her PhD shirt.


We have shirts on our t public store, that PhD and stuff you missed in history class and she earned one. I thought this is a great time since this was a music episode to to give her a shout out and thank her for writing in and telling us about it.


And her picture is adorable and thank her for being an educator as well. We need it. And there's there's so much that says that music education leads to all kinds of better performance in other areas of academics.


So those music teachers, often the unsung heroes, if you would like to write to us, you can do so at history podcast at I heart radio, dotcom. You can also find us on social media as missed in history. And you can subscribe to the show on the I Heart radio app, Arabo podcasts or wherever it is you listen.


Stuff you missed in history class is the production of I Heart Radio for more podcasts from My Heart radio visit by her radio app Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. Hey, Washington, D.C. Spring is almost here, and now is the perfect time to get a healthy pest free lawn with your local experts at True Green, America's number one lawn care company. True green science based approach will help give your lawn the year-round care it needs to be thick and weed free.


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Paris Hilton has a podcast. This is Paris where she talks about the hottest of movies, music and television with edgy, candid conversations and unexpected guests. This is Paris like you've never heard her before. Every week it's an honest, open and unpredictable romp through pop culture that only she can deliver has been interviewed about a million times. Now it's my chance to turn the tables to interview some of your favorite celebs, influential people, and maybe even you. Listen to this Paris podcast on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.