Historic Concert to Salute Waco's Own Jules Bledsoe

March 6, 2020
The sanctuary of Waco’s 154-year-old New Hope Baptist Church will be the site for a concert to honor the legacy of African-American baritone and composer Jules Bledsoe on Sunday, March 22, beginning at 3:00 p.m. Bledsoe was a member of this very church during his formative years, prior to departing his hometown and achieving worldwide stardom. The program was organized by Baylor University’s Dr. Horace J. Maxile, Associate Professor of Music Theory.
Jules Bledsoe (1897-1943) was a Waco native who rose to international prominence when he sang the role of Joe in Florenz Ziegfeld’s brilliant 1927 production of the Jerome Kern musical, Showboat. His iconic interpretation of “Ol’ Man River” firmly established the song as an American classic. During his versatile career, Jules Bledsoe wrote several patriotic songs, as well as songs in the style of spirituals and folk songs. He also composed an opera, Bondage (1939), based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Bledsoe’s African Suite, a set of four songs for voice and orchestra, was featured with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, directed by the illustrious conductor, Wilhelm Mengelberg.
The Waco concert will feature guest artist Bronwen Forbay, a leading soprano from Durban, South Africa, in addition to a large cast of faculty and students from Baylor University: Emily Wood and Gabrielle Swinton (sopranos), Tevae Shoels and Peter Ruiz (tenors), Evan Welliver (baritone), Austin Henry and Preston Hart (basses), and Bradley Bolen, Jonathan Pinto, and Mario Barbosa (pianists).
Among the songs to be performed that Jules Bledsoe performed for his Waco audiences were “Autumn” by Cécile Chaminade, “Pleading” by Edward Elgar, “Song of the Open” by Frank La Forge, “Birds’ Courting Song” by Robert Hughes, “Steal Away” by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, “I Stood on de Ribber ob Jordan” by Harry Burleigh. Also to be heard are many of Bledsoe’s own compositions, including “Go Down Moses,” “The Farewell,” “He Rose,” “Beside a New Made Grave,” and “Home, Home, Home.”
This concert is free of charge and open to the public. For more information, call the Baylor University School of Music at 254-710-3991.
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