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BLEDSOE, JULIUS LORENZO COBB

BLEDSOE, JULIUS LORENZO COBB (1897–1943). Julius (Jules) Bledsoe, black baritone and composer, was born on December 29, 1897, in Waco, Texas, the son of Henry L. and Jessie (Cobb) Bledsoe. He attended Central Texas Academy in Waco from about 1905 until his graduation as class valedictorian in 1914. He then attended Bishop College in Marshall, where he earned a B.A. in 1918. He was a member of the ROTC at Virginia Union University in Richmond in 1918–19 and studied medicine at Columbia University in New York City between 1920 and 1924. While attending Columbia, he studied voice with Claude Warford, Luigi Parisotti, and Lazar Samoiloff. He was sponsored by the impresario Sol Hurok for his professional singing debut on April 20, 1924, at Aeolian Hall in New York. As a concert artist Bledsoe performed in the United States and Europe. He was praised for his ability to sing in several languages, for his vocal control and range, and for his power to communicate through music. In 1926 he performed as the baritone Tizan, the leading role in the opera Deep River.

His best-known achievement was his portrayal of Joe in Florenz Ziegfeld's 1927 production of Jerome Kern's Showboat. His interpretation of "Ol' Man River" made the song an American classic. He recreated this role in the film version of Showboat in 1929. In his versatile career of nearly twenty years Bledsoe performed with such distinguished musical organizations as the Boston Symphony Chamber Players (1926), the BBC Symphony in London (1936), and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (1937). He sang the role of Amonasro in Giuseppe Verdi's Aïda with the Cleveland Stadium Opera (1932), the Chicago Opera Company at the Hippodrome in New York (1933), and the Cosmopolitan Opera Company, also at the Hippodrome (1934). A highlight of his career was his performance in the title role for the European premiere, in Amsterdam, of Louis Gruenberg's opera The Emperor Jones (1934). In 1940 and 1941 Bledsoe worked in films in Hollywood. He played the part of Kalu in Drums of the Congo, and, although his name did not appear in the credits, he probably played in Safari, Western Union, and Santa Fe Trail.

He wrote several patriotic songs and songs in the style of spirituals and folk songs. Some of his compositions were "Does Ah Luv You?" (1931); "Pagan Prayer" (date unknown), on a poem by Countee Cullen; "Good Old British Blue" (1936); and "Ode to America" (1941). He wrote 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 Wilhelm Mengelberg. After a war bond tour Bledsoe died, on July 14, 1943, in Hollywood, from a cerebral hemorrhage. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Waco.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. Jules Bledsoe Papers, Texas Collection, Baylor University. Maud Cuney-Hare, Negro Musicians and Their Music (Washington: Associated Publishers, 1936). Lynnette Geary, The Career and Music of Jules Bledsoe (M.Mus. thesis, Baylor University, 1982). Dayton Kelley, ed., The Handbook of Waco and McLennan County, Texas (Waco: Texian, 1972).

Lynnette Geary

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Lynnette Geary, "BLEDSOE, JULIUS LORENZO COBB," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbl22), accessed December 20, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on September 4, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.