Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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Jessye, Eva (Alberta)

(b Coffeyville, KS, 20 Jan 1885; d Ann Arbor, MI, 21 Feb 1992). American choral director, composer and arranger. She studied at Western University, Kansas (graduated 1914), and Langston University, Langston, Oklahoma. After teaching in the public schools, she became the director of music at Morgan College, Baltimore, in 1920. In 1926, a year after joining the staff at the Baltimore Afro-American, she moved to New York to study with Will Marion Cook and Percy Goetschius. By 1930 her Original Dixie Jubilee Singers (later the Eva Jessye Choir), an ensemble that performed spirituals, work-songs, mountain ballads, ragtime jazz and light opera, were popular on both stage and radio, appearing regularly on the ‘Major Bowes Family Radio Hour’ and the ‘General Motors Hour’. The first black woman to win international distinction as a choral director, she and her choir performed throughout the world and in numerous Broadway shows and motion pictures, the first being King Vidor’s Hallelujah (MGM, 1929). In 1934 she served as choral director for Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts and in 1935 was asked by George Gershwin to direct the chorus for Porgy and Bess, a position she held until 1958. She also acted as an adviser for the BBC’s For the Children: Huckleberry Finn and Down in the Valley (1952). In 1963 her choir was designated the official chorus of Martin Luther King’s civil rights march on Washington, DC. After her retirement in 1971, she established the Eva Jessye Afro-American Music Collection at the University of Michigan and Pittsburg State University (Kansas). She received many honorary doctorates and was a member of ASCAP and the Negro Actors’ Guild.


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