- Nina Kennedy
"African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand" by Bill Egan
I was so gratified to see the photograph of African American pianist Leota Henson in the new book by historian Bill Egan titled African American Entertainers in Australia and New Zealand: A History, 1788-1941. Bill Egan saw my blog on Leota Henson last year, and asked for my permission to use the photograph. The reason I had that photograph was because Leota and my grandmother Nina Clinton were dear friends. They had traveled together as part of Frederick Loudin's "Fisk Jubilee Singers," who had traveled and performed in Australia and New Zealand in the 1880s. As some you have read, I opened a box of papers and photos that belonged to my grandmother, and found the autographed portrait of Miss Henson, along with seven typed pages titled "A Few Notes on the Life of Leota Henson." I immediately posted the writings online, along with the photograph.
Bill Egan informed me that he was including a section of his new book on Frederick Loudin's Jubilee Singers. I knew that Leota and my grandmother were so happy that I finally unearthed her photo and writings. My mother had carried this box from her childhood home in Charleston, West Virginia, to Nashville, Tennessee where she was a member of the music faculty at Fisk University.
Unfortunately, she never sat me down and showed me what was in this box. Some of the photographs I had to research myself after her death. Thank Goddess for the Internet and ancestry.com!
Loudin's Jubilee Singers with Leota at the keyboard
Leota Henson was, as far as I know, the first African American woman to study piano at the Leipzig Conservatory, founded by Felix Mendelssohn in 1843. She began her studies in 1884, and began touring with the Jubilee Singers two years later as their official piano accompanist. Frederick Loudin was her uncle, her mother's brother. It was Loudin who made arrangements for her to study in Leipzig. Loudin's wife, Harriet, sailed with Leota from New York to Hamburg, and set her up in Leipzig in the home of a Frauline Herrmann, in a room with a piano.
The tour of the Jubilee Singers went through Great Britain, Italy, Egypt, Arabia, India, China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. They returned to the United States through Customs in San Francisco in 1900. The tour lasted a total of six years.
Look for my name in the Index and the Acknowledgements of the book.
"Bill Egan is a Canberra-based independent researcher with a lifelong interest in jazz and African American culture."