The Tuskegee Institute Singers’ visit to Davenport

The reviews were overwhelmingly positive. “Delightful, splendid, pleasing and greatly appreciated” described the entertaining performances of the Tuskegee Institute Singers ensemble that traveled the globe in 1914 and 1915 promoting the mission and interests of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

The Colorado Statesman. [volume 21 no. 34], April 17, 1915, page 5

Musicians and faculty chaperones gave concerts in the Tri-Cities from May 4 to May 6, 1915, in high schools, churches, and the Y.M.C.A. The program was consistently described as a rendering of plantation melodies, negro folk songs, and dialect readings. The talented entertainers’ names remained a mystery until a recent review in the Register and Leader newspaper out of Des Moines, Iowa listed them as Thomas Ray, Charles Anderson, LeRoy Brown, Luther Davidson, and Richard Mann. The busy performers took a bit of time while in the area to visit Davenport photographer J.B. Hostetler to have their group portrait taken.

Tuskegee Singers photographed by J.B. Hostetler in May 1915

Organized by Booker T. Washington in 1884, three years after the historically black, private university in Tuskegee, Alabama was founded, a quartet of singers was sent out by the founder to acquaint audiences with the Tuskegee name and educational philosophy. The school choir formed in 1886 and continues to be a vibrant part of the school’s culture to this day.

The glee club reorganized in 1909 and traveled until well into the 1940s, with membership numbers varying. On this particular tour, a quintet performed melodies including “Go Down, Moses”.

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Since You Went Away” written by black composer J. Rosmond Johnson. Interspersed between numbers were literary readings and brief addresses regarding the work of the Institute. No admission fees were charged but voluntary offerings benefiting the Institute were collected.

Tuskegee Singers photographed by J.B. Hostetler in May 1915

Newspaper reviews state lobbies were packed, audiences thronged into auditoriums, and applause was hearty and frequent.

 We salute these men for representing the Tuskegee Institute so ably with their harmonies.


(posted by Karen)

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