Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

172 : The Jubilee Singers as a financial venture – 1886-1889

Disputes which result in appearances in law courts can supply valuable information to historians. This site’s page 138 details something of the economics of slave narratives in late 19th century England revealed through the cheating of an employee of a printer. The extensive reporting in New Zealand’s Auckland Star (9 May 1889) concerns a court case in Melbourne, Australia, far across the Tasman Sea, when Edward Price claimed arrears of salary from Frederick J. Loudin, an African American singer and ‘proprietor of the Fisk Jubilee Singers’. Initially a group of a dozen men and women singing and collecting on behalf of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, which took them to Europe and gathered considerable funds, the troupe led by Loudin was independent. It travelled the world from the 1880s, opening in Melbourne on 7 June 1886. Price was their business manager and was said to have been paid £25 per week by the time the tour ended in New Zealand in August 1888, having started in Carlisle (England) at £10 monthly.

The court heard that prior to arriving in Australia the choir had performed in the U.K. for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) which was paid either 35% or 45% of the takings. The leading female singer was Mattie Lawrence (see page 143 of this site) who earned £18 to £20 per month in England and ‘up to £33 in Australia’. Loudin stated that as he prospered he increased salaries. He started in Australia with a capital of £5,000 and that tour gathered £32,000. (Price said the takings had been £34,880.) His costs had been £24,000.

At a time when £500 was an excellent annual income, Loudin’s two years in Australia had been extremely profitable. He had to pay for fares, accommodation, salaries, meals etc, and if – as it seems – Edward Price’s professionalism kept the troupe working, Price deserved his salary. Loudin told the Melbourne court he was worth £14,000 to £15,000, including some property in America. He admitted that he charged higher prices in Australia not because expenses were heavier but ‘it was because I thought I could get them’.

Claims that the troupe contained emancipated slaves led to the statement that the Misses Malone, Carne and Gibbons, and three males (O. M. McAdoo, J. T. L. Lane, and R. B. Williams) had been slaves: and that they had been children at that time. Price’s lawyer stressed how Loudin made claims about missionary work (gathering for US charities) and that they were copies of the original Fisk singers – ‘There was not in the whole affair one semblance of proof that either Loudin or the singers ever sang for the University’. Loudin had obtained support from ‘Wesleyan and Presbyterian parsons, to subscribe to the entertainment’. They and others were ‘convinced of their praiseworthy motives and the desire of the company to induce the public to do something for the cause of Jesus Christ, and not for Mr and Mrs Loudin and the little Loudins’. The court heard the judge remark ‘they were evidently working a fraud on the religious part of the community’.

The venture was ‘a commercial speculation from beginning to end … just as much so as was a fireworks exhibition, where money was charged at the gate’. Loudin said he had lost money in Britain for about three months, at £25 daily.

Price had been well paid, and his case against Loudin was dismissed.

 

—oOo—

 

Robert Bradford Williams, born in Georgia in 1860, had been to Yale. He settled in New Zealand in 1890 where he was a successful lawyer and long-term mayor in Onslow, Wellington. He died in 1942. Orpheus McAdoo died in Australia in 1900 having led groups to South Africa. His brother Eugene was based in England where he died in 1917 (see page 049). Patti Malone died in Nebraska in 1897, touring with Loudin. Loudin died in Ohio in 1904. If ‘Miss Carne’ is Maggie Carnes, she had experienced ten years in slavery and had been in the Fisk Jubilee Singers to Europe in the 1870s. Miss Lawrence married an Englishman in 1890 and settled in Croydon near London where she was a friend of the London-born composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (son of an African), who declared that Loudin had introduced him to Spirituals.

The Auckland Star is on natlib.govt.nz/records/ 28155513.