Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

068: Roland Hayes in London 1920-1921

The Times, 22 April 1921: "they had had reality before them and it had gone"

The Times, 22 April 1921: "they had had reality before them and it had gone"

Roland Hayes, born in rural Georgia in 1887, travelled to England in April 1920 with pianist Lawrence Brown. Concert agents in London promoted them, and Hayes – an art song tenor – achieved fame, making recordings for H.M.V. and appearing in Bournemouth and London. The pair moved within the small black comunity of London, staying at 3 St James Terrace NW8, a boarding house run by Duse Mohamed Ali and his wife. In late August 1920 they were with Dr John Alcindor on holiday in Sandown, on the Isle of Wight and later that year Hayes received a signed appreciation from several West Africans, Alcindor, and Ali. Ali moved to the USA where he was involved with Marcus Garvey – the latter having worked for him in London in 1913 at Ali’s African Times and Orient Review. Hayes and Brown then lodged at Belsize Park and Hendon. They visited Paris in June and in August 1921.

Their artistic success led them to receive patronage from high society, notably with the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace on 23 April 1921 and in late May with David Lloyd George “and a lot of other notables”. Their repertoire included songs in French, Yoruba, Italian and German. Hayes performed at Prom concerts (8 September and 4 October 1921), and both men attended the Pan-African congress at the end of August.

On 8 October 1921 they gave a recital at the Wigmore Hall in aid of the African Progress Union, a group headed by Alcindor whose committee  included South Carolina-born Edmund Jenkins, who had been studying at the Royal Academy of Music since 1914. There were other recitals, and other musical contacts including Australian diva Dame Nellie Melba who invited Hayes to her home in May 1921: there he met violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler. In Paris in June 1921 Hayes met the black American violinist Wesley Howard.

Hayes included Negro Spirituals in his concerts, part of a tradition established by the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 1870s. Hayes had sung with a Fisk group in the 1910s. Brown, who was later to accompany bass Paul Robeson (who is the concert artist whose reputation still dominates British concepts of black art-song performers of the 1920s and 1930s), was replaced by pianist Will Lawrence – a distant relative and associate of Edmund Jenkins. One of the African Progress Union’s committee members, Guyana-born lawyer W. E. S. Callender, had a pianist daughter and Dorothy Callender gave a recital at the Steinway Hall in mid-December 1921. She was 17 years old. Her law student brother, destined for a career in the Bahamas, is thought to have been an announcer for BBC radio in the 1930s.

Mixing with these people in London in 1920-1921 affected Hayes, who went on to have a respected career in the USA. Hayes named his daughter Africa (she modified it to Afrika) and she donated the Hayes papers to the Detroit Public Library and permitted Christopher Brooks to use them in his forthcoming biography of her father, who died in 1976.

Jeffrey Green, “Roland Hayes in London, 1921”, The Black Perspective in Music (Spring 1982) pp. 29-42, articles in The Times 1920-1923, and copies of the Hayes papers courtesy of Christopher Brooks are the basis for this article.

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