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Marie Selika

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Marie Selika Williams (c. 1849 – May 19, 1937) was an American coloratura soprano. She was the first African-American artist to perform in the White House.


Marie Smith was born in Natchez, Mississippi, around 1849. After she was born her family moved to Cincinnati, where a wealthy family funded voice lessons for her. She moved to San Francisco in the 1870s and studied with Signora G. Bianchi. She then studied in Chicago with Antonio Farini, who taught the Italian method. There she met a fellow student, operatic baritone Sampson Williams, whom she would later marry.Marie Selika became the first African-American artist to perform in the White House in 1878. On November 18, she sang for President Rutherford B. Hayes and First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes in the Green Room and was introduced by Frederick Douglass. Her performance included Verdi’s “Ernani, involami,” Thomas Moore’s “The Last Rose of Summer,” Harrison Millard’s “Ave Maria,” and Richard Mulder’s “Polka Staccato.” She performed at P…

Ebony and Ivory: A Dissonant Truth

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As some of you know, I am preparing for a Carnegie Hall concert in the near future; so recently my attentions have turned to other pianists who have enjoyed successful concert careers. While reading a biography of pianist/composer Clara Schumann*, I was filled with pangs of jealousy. Her father, Friedrich Wieck, was a shrewd businessman. He booked all of her concerts, negotiated her fees, and devoted himself to her publicity. Granted, little Clara didn't have much of a childhood; but neither did I. Her parents divorced when she was five, and her father demanded sole custody.


Clara's father owned and ran a piano dealership, and was determined that his daughter would be known throughout Europe as a wunderkind, as young Mozart had been. But Friedrich Wieck did not have to worry about being discriminated against because of his race. He was free to build his daughter's career however he imagined it. She was already a superstar long before she married composer Robert Schumann a…

"Narcissister Organ Player" at the Film Forum

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Last Saturday evening, A&N Salon regular Liz Margolies, visual artist Julie Lindell, April and I attended a screening of Narcissister Organ Player at the Film Forum in Manhattan. I had not heard of Narcissister before seeing the film, but Julie had attended one of her live performances a few years ago and sang her praises. I must admit I was very impressed. Narcissister had received national fame after her appearance on America's Got Talent, and publicized rumors of a brief tryst with Marilyn Manson. 


Her skills as an artist are multi-faceted - a trained professional dancer, she has a perfect body and uses it to display hand-sewn costumes which morph into multiple puppets via layering of the fabric. She also constructs stage sets representing the female body, upon which she climbs and displays her gymnastic abilities.



The words "Organ Player" in the title refer to the representations of various bodily organs which appear on the stage sets, and in her own cartoons in wh…

An Autumn Musicale at Chez Hosford

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Our dear friends Jacqueline and Christopher Hosford invited us to their home in Riverdale earlier this month for what they called “An Autumn Musicale.” Christopher is a true supporter/fan of mine, so I planned to offer a few selections. Jacqueline provided a fabulous spread of cheeses, nuts, fruit and veggies, and Swedish meatballs. Libations were poured by singer/musician/model Joel-Isaac Musoki.

Christopher Hosford has a day job as editor for The Hosford Group LLC, and is the author of "Great Business Meetings, Greater Business Results." A talented pianist in his own right, he is the proud owner of a beautiful Chickering grand piano.
The program opened with Carl Viggiani, who is a pianist and composer. He studied piano and composition at North Carolina School of the Arts, New England Conservatory, and the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned performance degrees in classical music and jazz.He has performed regularly as a jazz pianist throughout the New York metropolitan…

Valerie Simpson to Receive Fisk Jubilee Singers Heritage Award

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Congratulations to pianist, composer, songstress, diva, Valerie Simpson (of the dynamic duo "Ashford and Simpson") who has been selected to receive the Fisk Jubilee Singers Alumni Heritage Award in a special event to take place October 6th in the Fisk University Memorial Chapel. Valerie Simpson, along with her late husband Nick Ashford, composed and performed some of America's most recognizable tunes, including "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Solid As a Rock," "I'm Every Woman," among others. She will present a full concert as part of this fundraising event. Tickets can be purchased at the "FJSA Present The 2018 Heritage Award" Facebook group.

"Anne Gamble Recital Wins Critic's Praise"

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In honor of my mother's birthday, please enjoy this review from The Nashville Banner dated March 3, 1958.

New York Times Review of Matthew Kennedy's New York Debut Recital

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While searching through more boxes, I found these two articles. Both are reviews of my father's New York Recital debut in 1958. The first is from The New York Times, the second from the New York Herald Tribune.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers at the Kennedy Center

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Again for posterity (since all of the articles appearing in this blog can be found online in perpetuity), here is the review of the Fisk Jubilee Singers' concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. as it appeared in Down Beat Magazine in 1972. It is listed in the Down Beat magazine archives

The Fisk Jubilee Singers at Carnegie Hall

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As you probably know, I am currently going through boxes and papers preparing for the publication of my first book of memoirs. Today I thought I would share with you this New York Times review of the Fisk Jubilee Singers' 1980 Carnegie Hall concert with my father as director and my mother as piano accompanist.

April and Nina's Salon at the 5C Café

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April and Nina's Salon was recently held in its new location at the 5C Café on the southeast corner of Avenue C and East 5th Street in Manhattan. Queen Nejma Nefertiti served as guest MC, and also presented several of her signature performances.

Ella Sheppard

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Since I can never rely on Wikipedia to publish the complete article, again I am posting it here, so y'all can get the WHOLE truth!

Ella Sheppard
 (4 February 1851 - 9 June 1914) was a soprano, pianist, composer, and arranger of Negro Spirituals. She was the matriarch of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville, Tennessee.[1][2][3] She also played the organ and the guitar. Sheppard was a friend and trusted confidante of African-American activists and orators Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass.[4]
Ella Sheppard, singer, pianist, arranger of Negro Spirituals, and matriarch of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers Contents [hide1Early life and education2Career3Legacy4References Early life and education[edit] A direct descendant of Andrew Jackson, Samuella "Ella" Sheppard was born on Jackson's plantation The Hermitage.[5][6] Sheppard's father Simon hired himself out as a Nashville liveryman and hack driver, and was able to earn $1,800 to buy his freedom. Sar…