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Black Music Month Celebrates Texas Opera Singer Jules Bledsoe

Ten Things you should know about Jules Bledsoe (1897-1943)

1. Born in Waco, Texas in 1897, his full name was Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe.

2. He was the Central Texas Academy’s valedictorian in 1914, and studied medicine at Columbia University in New York City in the early 1920s.

3. While at Columbia, he studied voice and his singing debut was April 20, 1924.

4. During a short career lasting less than twenty years, Bledsoe was praised for his ability to sing in several languages and for his vocal control. His career ranged from vaudeville to radio and motion pictures.

5. His role as “Joe” in Jerome Kern’s Showboat made “Ol’ Man River” an American classic.

6. Bledsoe performed with the Boston Symphony, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, The Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, the Cleveland Stadium Opera, the Chicago Opera Company and the NYC Cosmopolitan Opera Company.

7. He performed the title role in the opera The Emperor Jones, the role of Amonasro in Verdi’s Aïda and even appeared (in whiteface) as Canio in Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci.

8. In the early 1940s he worked in Hollywood playing in roles beneath his abilities. He played the part of Kalu in Drums of the Congo, and made other (mostly forgettable) films.

9. He wrote an opera, Bondage, based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a set of four songs for voice and orchestra called African Suite.

10. Bledsoe died on July 14, 1943, in Hollywood, after performing during a war bond drive. He is buried in Waco’s Greenwood Cemetery where his tombstone is inscribed with music and lyrics from Ol’ Man River.

Written by John Troesser