From Opera, Minstrelsy and Ragtime to Social Justice


Jones_Sissieretta“It is probable that this hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country,” said Andrew Carnegie in 1890, when he laid the cornerstone of the building that would become Carnegie Hall. In keeping with Carnegie’s firm belief in egalitarianism and meritocracy, the hall that bore his name maintained an open-door policy from the beginning. In June of 1892, at the end of the hall’s first full concert season, soprano Sissieretta Jones became the first African American artist to perform there on a concert presented by the black social organization The Sons of New York. Although this performance took place in the 1200-seat recital hall on the hall’s lower level (today known as Zankel Hall), Jones returned eight months later to sing in the main auditorium on a benefit for the World’s Fair Colored Opera Company, at which Frederick Douglass delivered an introductory address. Black social causes frequently found a platform at Carnegie Hall during its first half century. Booker T. Washington made the first of his 15 appearances there in 1896, delivering an address at a Presbyterian Home Missions rally. In January of 1904, Washington shared the stage with W.E.B. Du Bois on a three-day conference of African American leaders. Du Bois returned in 1918 to speak alongside Theodore Roosevelt on a benefit for the Circle for Negro War Relief. The more controversial Marcus Garvey, inspired by Washington but denounced by Du Bois, addressed Carnegie Hall audiences four times between 1919 and 1924.

…In the 65 years since Duke Ellington’s debut, representatives of nearly every facet of black culture have appeared regularly at Carnegie Hall, although any brief survey of necessity omits more names than it can possibly include. One thing is clear: Carnegie Hall has certainly fulfilled Andrew Carnegie’s founding wish by intertwining itself with the history of our country, regardless of race.

More here. (Note: One post throughout February will be dedicated to Black History Month.)