This post is the first in our series of features on Black composers and classical musicians throughout history. Today we feature Frederick Douglass.
Many people have heard of the well-known African-American abolitionist, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass. But did you know he was also an amateur violinist? Not only that, his son, Charles Remond Douglass, also played violin as an avocation. What’s more, Charles’s son (Frederick’s grandson), Joseph Henry Douglass, became a concert violinist. He was one of the first African-American performers to be nationally and internationally renowned. His first major performance was at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where he joined other performers to celebrate Colored American Day, an event that his grandfather Frederick had helped plan. Joseph Henry Douglass went on to earn a high profile as a performer, and is credited as the first Black violinist to make transcontinental tours.
Dr. Megan Hill,
My name is Dr. Rufus Jones. I am writing the biography of Joseph Henry Douglass. I’m curious if you have any unpublished primary/secondary source material on Joseph. I would love to speak with you about this when you have time.
Hello Dr. Jones,
Thank you for getting in touch, and apologies for the delayed response.
Unfortunately we do not have any sources specifically on Joseph Henry Douglass. Our research has been more broad than specifically focused. Our bibliography of suggested materials is given here, but I suspect those sources are not as specific as you’re looking for.
We do wish you all the best on your biography. When it is finished, please do let us know. We would be thrilled to share news of it with our community!
I also am very interested in Joseph Henry Douglass and would much like to examine any extant concert programs. Since the 1893 Columbian Exposition was a high profile event for Thomas Edison, I wonder if any of the Colored American Day or related performances were recorded. Whether they exist is another question, but I would not be surprised if some cylinder recordings were made. I think I read that he recorded some unreleased discs, but I may be mistaken.
Jose White and Brindis de Salas toured in North/South America and Europe decades before Joseph H. Douglass. They were both Cuban. I also would be very interested in corresponding with Dr. Jones and look forward to reading his biography of Douglass.
My young daughters are slated to play an event honoring Douglass. They play violin and viola. I was wondering if there are documented pieces (classical or otherwise) that Mr. Douglass enjoyed. I’d like to have my daughters play these pieces or excerpts as guests arrive to the event.
Hello Tremeshia, it’s lovely to hear about your daughters’ upcoming performance honoring Douglass. I will inquire around as quickly as I can to see if I can find an answer for you.