Celebrating Black History at Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall

Black History at Carnegie Hall
At the laying of the building’s cornerstone in 1890, Andrew Carnegie stated, “Here all good causes may find a platform.”  At Carnegie Hall, African Americans found not racial segregation, but an open forum that, as the Hall’s reputation continued to rise, helped strengthen recognition of the African American cultural legacy and its significance. At the Hall, Booker T. Washington raised funds and awareness for African American education in more than a dozen appearances; Marian Anderson made her debut nearly 11 years before being banned from appearing at Constitution Hall; and Lionel Hampton played with Benny Goodman in perhaps the first mixed-race ensemble to perform in a major concert venue. In these and countless other events throughout its 125-year history, Carnegie Hall has offered its stages to African American culture, which in turn, has enriched the diverse history of the Hall itself.

In addition to her voice, soprano Sissieretta Jones was famous for her elaborate gowns and glittering array of medals. She was one of the first African American artists to perform at Carnegie Hall.

On February 13, 1893, 25-year-old soprano Sissieretta Jones became the first African American artist to perform in Carnegie Hall’s main auditorium.

Jones was joined by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Still in existence today, the group performed at Carnegie Hall in 2009 as part of HONOR! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy.

Educator, author, and civic leader Booker T. Washington appeared at Carnegie Hall 17 times between 1896 and 1915. Here he is speaking at a benefit for the Tuskegee Institute on January 22, 1906.

Washington was joined onstage by Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, who also spoke at the event.

Jazz in its earliest form was heard in Carnegie Hall for the first time on May 2, 1912, when James Reese Europe and his Clef Club Orchestra presented a “Concert of Negro Music.”

The New York Sun noted the integration of the audience, “which was large and thoroughly well mixed, but united in its applause.”

Civil rights leader Marcus Garvey addressed Carnegie Hall audiences five times between 1919 and 1924. Four of these events were meetings of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.

On February 5, 1924, tenor Roland Hayes became the first African American artist to give a full-length recital at Carnegie Hall.

Hayes's association with the Hall spanned almost five decades and nearly 40 performances. He inscribed this portrait to Carnegie Hall house manager John J. Totten in 1930.

W. C. Handy, the cornetist and composer often called the "Father of the Blues,” brought his orchestra and Jubilee Singers to Carnegie Hall in 1928 for this concert of jazz, plantation songs, and concert music.

Baritone and human rights activist Paul Robeson made his Carnegie Hall debut on November 5, 1929—the first of a dozen appearances at the Hall that span nearly three decades.

On January 16, 1938, Benny Goodman brought swing music to Carnegie Hall. Goodman’s trio was one of the first racially integrated groups to perform regularly in public venues.

This photograph shows the great pianist, singer, and composer Fats Waller on the Carnegie Hall stage with trumpeter Oran "Hot Lips" Page on January 14, 1942. Waller was the headliner for this concert.

Before her death in 1993, legendary contralto Marian Anderson had a more than 70-year association with Carnegie Hall. She first performed at the Hall in 1920 and went on to appear more than 50 times.

The success of Duke Ellington's 1943 debut and his new approach to jazz composition led to his series of annual Carnegie Hall concerts, on which he always premiered at least one new work.

In 2014, Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute presented a creative learning project in celebration of Duke Ellington's Sacred Music, drawing upon the talents of hundreds of New York City student singers and instrumentalists.

On September 29, 1947, bebop came to Carnegie Hall for the first time when Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald made their Carnegie Hall debuts before a sold-out house.

Charlie Parker also joined Gillespie for a reunion of their groundbreaking quintet. The frenetic energy of bebop was a radical departure from swing and sparked open hostility in some musical circles.

On March 27, 1948, Billie Holiday, who had been released from prison on a drug charge only days earlier, performed at Carnegie Hall—her first public performance in nearly a year.

According to the New York Amsterdam News, the high point was her rendition of “Strange Fruit” in the second half, “with the hall in complete darkness and a single spotlight etching her face.”

Duke Ellington received top billing among a lineup of other notable artists, any of whom could have been the headliner, including Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ahmad Jamal.

This midnight concert on October 29, 1955—Carnegie Hall’s first full-length rock 'n' roll concert—featured 14 different African American acts, all performing their biggest hits.

Earl Gaines sang "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)," Etta James sang “Wallflower,” Bo Diddley performed “Diddley Daddy,” and Big Joe Turner ended with “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

This 1957 Carnegie Hall performance featured a legendary collaboration between pianist Thelonious Monk and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.

Gospel singer and civil rights advocate Mahalia Jackson made her Carnegie Hall debut on October 1, 1950. This photograph documents her ninth and final Carnegie Hall appearance in 1963.

Civil rights activist and folk-music legend Odetta sang at Carnegie Hall 19 times before her death in 2008, including her headlining debut on May 8, 1960, which was recorded by Vanguard Records.

This is a poster for soprano Leontyne Price's Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1965. Price gave the first of her 45 Carnegie Hall performances in 1954 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In his last major public address, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the keynote speaker at a Carnegie Hall benefit to mark the 100th birthday of W. E. B. DuBois.

On Halloween 1985, hip-hop pioneers Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Melle Mel performed on a benefit concert for the political documentary "A Matter of Struggle."

The concert also featured singer-songwriter Richie Havens, who signed the poster, and folk singer and activist Odetta, among many others.

Leontyne Price came out of retirement to participate in “A Concert of Remembrance: Honoring the Victims of the Tragedy of September 11” on September 30, 2001.

Ms. Price concluded the performance with an a cappella rendition of "America the Beautiful."

Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy
In March 2009, Jessye Norman curated Honor!, a citywide festival celebrating the African American cultural legacy.
Carnegie Hall
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