America’s First Black Diva — Sissieretta Jones At 150

A series of free events are planned for this weekend to celebrate world-renowned singer, Sissieretta Jones, culminating in the placing of a headstone at her previously unmarked grave.

The exhibit “Sissieretta Jones: the Greatest Singer of Her Race” opens tonight at Stages of Freedom, the museum/gift shop co-founded by historian, and former Democratic state representative, Ray Rickman and located downtown on lower Westminster Street.

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner was born 150 ago in Virginia. At the age of six she moved with her family to Providence, her home until her death in 1933. America’s first black superstar was known as ‘The Black Patti,’ a reference to Italian opera singer Adelina Patti. This may sound strange to modern ears, but was considered high praise. From Wiki;

Trained at the Providence Academy of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music, Jones made her New York debut in 1888 at Steinway Hall,and four years later she performed at the White House for President Benjamin Harrison. She eventually sang for four consecutive presidents and the British royal family, and met with international success. Besides the United States and the West Indies, Jones toured in South America, Australia, India, southern Africa, and Europe.

We first wrote about the talented singer a few years ago to note the plaque marking her early residence on Weaton Street just beneath Prospect Terrace. This had been installed by then director of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, Ray Rickman.

The schedule of events includes:

7pm, Thursday — One-Woman play at the Pavilion at Grace Church.

9am, Saturday — Walking tour with historian, and Stages of Freedom director, Ray Rickman.

2pm Saturday — Concert at Congdon Street Baptist Church

5pm, Saturday — Headstone Ceremony, Grace Church Cemetery, Broad Street

(Friday’s keynote at the Athenaeum has sold out.)

Exhibit opening, 5pm, Thursday, June 7, Stages of Freedom, 10 Westminster Street, (directions)

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