The influence and legacy of Amanda Aldridge

Learn about the British singer who became a composer and influential teacher

Ira Aldridge as Othello, Henry Perronet Briggs, c. 1830, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
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Amanda Aldridge was the daughter of African-American actor Ira Aldridge. An international celebrity, he was famous for his Shakespearian roles – particularly Othello. Her mother was Ira’s second wife, a Swedish lady called Amanda Brandt. Sadly Ira died when his daughter was still a baby.

The National Training School of Music / Royal College of MusicRoyal College of Music

Amanda Aldridge at the RCM

The talented Amanda later won a competitive scholarship to study singing at the brand new Royal College of Music. In fact, she was the second student ever to enrol. At the RCM she studied under two famous singers.

Jenny Lind, From the collection of: Royal College of Music
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Sir George Henschel, Felix Stone Moscheles, 1880, From the collection of: Royal College of Music
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Her primary teacher was Jenny Lind. An international opera star, Lind was the first Professor of Singing at the RCM. She had a good relationship with Amanda, perhaps in part because she knew her parents. On Aldridge's report Lind wrote ‘Talented… has made excellent progress.' Aldridge's second singing teacher was Sir George Henschel. Another very famous singer, Henschel was a baritone who moved in important cultural circles. He was also renowned as a conductor & composer.

On ParadeRoyal College of Music

Composition

After graduating from the RCM, Amanda Aldridge worked as a concert singer until a condition that affected her throat forced her to stop performing.

Undeterred, she turned to composition instead. It is said that she published over 30 popular songs between 1907 and 1925.

Aldridge's compositions have been described as romantic parlour music & love songs, but many of their titles suggest she was interested in African/American themes, such as in Three African Dances.

Sheet music cover for Three African Dances, From the collection of: Royal College of Music
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All of Aldridge’s songs were published under the pseudonym Montague Ring. While some suggest this name was used to hide her gender from publishers, Aldridge herself said she wanted to keep her identity as a composer separate from her identity as a singer.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, Dorian Sylvain (in collaboration with Celia Bonito and Kari Black) 2022, 2022, From the collection of: American Writers Museum
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Several of these songs were settings of poems by African-American writers like Henry Francis Downing & Paul Laurence Dunbar (pictured here). Amanda Aldridge’s mother had worked hard to instil a love of African-American heritage in her children after Ira Aldridge’s premature death.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Debenham & Gould, 1910-04, From the collection of: Royal College of Music
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Incidentally, both Downing & Dunbar had important connections with another black British musician who studied at the RCM – the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Amanda Aldridge leafletRoyal College of Music

Teaching

Perhaps Amanda Aldridge’s most important role was that of teacher. Her students included three influential African-American artists.

The first was tenor Roland Hayes, who sought Aldridge out as a composer who worked on African-American themes.

Roland Hayes, 1930, Carnegie Hall Archives, From the collection of: Carnegie Hall
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Hayes has been called ‘the first African-American male concert artist to receive wide international acclaim.’ One of the highest paid singers of his time, he studied with Amanda in London. You can hear him singing 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' here: https://youtu.be/CU8DBguvYps

Another famous student was none other than Paul Robeson. He also performed African-American spirituals Aldridge had written & called her ‘the most charming, interesting & loveable woman.’

Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1940, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Portrait of Paul Robeson by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Listen to Paul Robeson singing 'Jerusalem'.

Gjon Mili, 1944, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
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Paul Robeson performing in the role of Othello.

Touchingly, Aldridge gifted Robeson the earrings her father had worn in the role of Othello. Robeson wore these earrings later when he became the first black American since Ira Aldridge to play Othello on stage. Naturally his friend Amanda was in the audience for this occasion!

Watch Paul Robseon discuss the role of Othello in this BBC interview.

Aldridge also taught the celebrated contralto Marian Anderson, who famously became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. 

Marian Anderson, Laura Wheeler Waring, 1944, From the collection of: Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
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Here is a video of Anderson performing at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. The performance was a defiant one. Anderson had been denied a stage at Constitution Hall due to her race. Instead, she performed at the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson was also involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Read more about her courage via NPR and The New Yorker.

Photograph of Amanda AldridgeRoyal College of Music

Family and Later Life

Beyond her professional career as a teacher and composer, Aldridge devoted herself to her family and music. In fact, she was not the only Aldridge with musical talent.

Her sister Luranah was a very successful opera singer who performed at the Royal Opera House & the Bayreuth Festival. Luranah's friends & admirers included George Sand & Charles Gounod, the latter of whom said she had ‘one of the most beautiful voices that exists’.  Luranah sadly suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. The severe pain & depression she experienced cut her career short. Amanda cared devotedly for her sister until Luranah tragically took her own life with a drug overdose in 1932.

Luranah Aldridge, From the collection of: Royal College of Music
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Amanda’s brother Frederick was a gifted concert pianist, but his career was also cut short when he leaped from a window to his death while suffering from a fever. He was just 25 years old.

Amanda Aldridge never married, devoting herself to her family & her music. However she once told her father's biographer: ‘don’t you get the impression, young man, that Cupid stayed away from my door!’

Amanda Aldridge, From the collection of: Royal College of Music
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Aldridge was active well into later life & even made her television debut in the 1950s at the age of 88. She accompanied Muriel Smith, who performed one of her compositions on a programme called Music For You. Amanda Aldridge died on 9th March 1956, one day before her 90th birthday.

Amanda Aldridge at home, From the collection of: Royal College of Music
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Credits: Story

Text: Dr Anna Maria Barry
Implementation: Richard Martin
Special thanks to: 
Laura Casas Cambra
Northwestern University, Illinois

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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