049: Eugene McAdoo’s jubilee trio in Britain

Fisk trio portrait message

 The story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who sang Negro Spirituals around Europe from the 1870s, obtaining donations for Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee that enabled it to survive,was told in J.B.T.Marsh’s The Story of the Jubilee Singers first published in 1875. By 1876 it was in its sixth edition, and in 1888 over 88,000 copies had been sold. The 1900 edition included an account of their six years global travels – to Australia – and it was reprinted in 1902. Spirituals were seen as a black American music. Other groups presented these songs, and the music became global. Andrew Ward, Dark Midnight When I Rise (2000) uses the letters and documentation in Fisk’s archives.

Members who formed their own choral groups included Frederick Loudin, who took Fisks on their world tour, settled in London and influenced Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor whose Twenty-four Negro Melodies for the piano of 1905 was a pioneering concert-style approach to black music generally (it had melodies from Africa and the Caribbean too). He died in Ohio in 1904 and Coleridge-Taylor visited his widow then. Absent from British accounts of Spirituals and Fisk-named and -styled groups are the McAdoo brothers although the older brother Orpheus Myron McAdoo has been documented for his work in South Africa and Australia.

Orpheus McAdoo (1858-1900) had worked with Loudin and in 1890 formed his own choral group, reaching Cape Town in June 1890, the first of three visits. These black Americans influenced Africans and whites there for nine years (see Veit Erlmann “‘A Feeling of Prejudice’: Orpheus M. McAdoo and the Virginian Jubilee Singers in South Africa, 1890-1898”, Journal of Southern African Studies Vol 14, No 3 [April 1988] and his African Stars University of Chicago Press, 1991). The McAdoo troupe (he had married Mattie Allen [ca. 1868-1936] and their son Myron was born in 1893) with younger brother Eugene (ca.1870-1917?) worked in Australia where Orpheus booked the Palace Theatre in Sydney in 1899. He sought fresh artists in America, advertising in the Colored American (Washington, D.C.) on 22 April 1899 and returning there where, on 17 July 1900, he died (he was buried in Waverley cemetery, Sydney). A McAdoo troupe, seemingly whites in blackface in the main, continued into 1914. (see wilsonalmanac.com).

Eugene McAdoo ran the Fisk Jubilee Trio and it was in Britain between 1907 and 1910. They appeared in small halls, often associated with nonconformist churches. Postcards are far from rare and those with dates, franking marks, and messages have led to some details. McAdoo and his colleagues Euna Mocara and Laura Carr were in Plumstead (south east London) in June 1908; and in Brighton on 1 August. The most detailed findings (on jazzheritagewales@smu.ac.uk) relate to their triumph in Swansea at the end of March 1907. Their concerts were heard by over 12,000 people, and on 8 April 1907 they went on a tour of south Wales.

Laura Carr advertised in the London showbusiness weekly Era of 31 July 1897 that she had spent five years with McAdoo and had just returned from South Africa. Open for concert bookings, she gave her London address as 64 Gloucester Place, Portman Square, London.

English registrations of deaths list a Eugene M. McAdoo, aged 47, whose death was recorded in the last months of 1917, in London’s St Pancras district. The papers of Orpheus and Mattie Allen McAdoo are at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. What happened to the papers of Eugene McAdoo and where had he been in Britain? There are three different poses of the Fisk Trio on postcards, and a group of seven that includes those who became the Trio, a youngster who may be Myron, and Will Thompson, the pianist who had a considerable impact amongst Africans in Kimberley, South Africa, in the 1890s where he died. Another was Robert Bradford Williams (1862-1942) born in Georgia who married an Australian and became mayor of a suburb of Wellington, New Zealand.

Euna Mocara is listed as an ‘artiste’ in the British census of 1911, visiting in East Murton, Durham. The enumerator wrote that she had been born around 1884 in Thornaby on Tees, in northern Yorkshire. The very unusual forename suggests she was born Euna Mildred Tate in Easington (registration quarter ending June 1884) but no other official documentation has been traced. A New Zealand newspaper (Evening Post, 2 August 1913) reported she was visiting her mother in Wellington in late July 1913 and left for England ‘yesterday’. Her mother lived in Wellington. The 1920s she was described as the last of the Fisk Jubilee Singers – appearing in Ballymena in January 1920 and March 1922, in Derby in early 1923, Portsmouth in March 1924 and in Belfast in January 1925. She was ‘Miss Mocora [sic] (Fisk Jubilee Singers)’ booked to appear at the monthly Sisterhood meeting on 19 December 1920 at the Wesleyan church in Quex Road, Kilburn, north London from 3 to 4: and to sing in the evening service, according to an announcement card (provided to me in March 2016 by Charles Kay).

Pages expanding this theme include
001 In Dahomey
074 Uncle Tom’s Cabin
075 Horace Weston, banjo maestro
120 Black prima donnas
137 Minstrel shows in Britain

and 172 on the Fisk troupe in Australia 1886-1889

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