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Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

by Sandra Jean Graham

Web Table 4.1. Original Hampton Institute Singers, 1873, directed by Thomas P. Fenner

First soprano


Carrie Thomas

Lead soprano. Only student with previous formal training, and only northerner by birth.

Alice M. Ferribee

Born 1855 in Elizabeth City, VA. Class of 1875. Later married Reverend Peyton Lewis (class of 1875), a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and served as organist in several churches and Sunday schools after studying instrumental music in Baltimore.

Rachel Elliott

Born 1854 in Portsmouth, VA. Class of 1874.

Second soprano


Lucy A. Leary

Born 1855 in Fayetteville, NC. Class of 1877. Cousin to alto Maria Mallette. Before the war lived at Harper’s Ferry, where her father died in the John Brown raid.

Mary Norwood

From Wilmington, NC.



Maria Mallette

Born 1857 in Wilmington, NC. Class of 1877. Cousin to soprano Lucy Leary. Turned sixteen during the first year of touring. Died 1880.

Sallie Davis

From Norfolk, VA. After graduation, briefly continued her singing career with two other Hampton singers (Joseph Mebane and James Monroe Waddy) in the Virginia Choristers, then became a teacher.

First tenor


Joseph Mebane

Born 1853 in Mebanesville (now Mebane), NC. After graduation, continued his singing career with two other Hampton singers (Sallie Davis and James Monroe Waddy) in the Virginia Choristers and at least one other traveling company. In 1880s opened a “Gentleman’s Bar-room” in Ohio.

Hutchin(g)s Inge

From Danville, VA. Class of 1872.

Whit Williams

Born 1857, Danville, VA. Class of 1876. After graduation taught in Washington Co., VA (1878–82), where he started a church choir and taught vocal music.

James A. Dungee (or Dungey)

Born 1842 in King William’s County, VA. Class of 1872. Traveled with the Hampton Singers for two years after graduating, then became a teacher. Died 1883.

Second tenor


William Gaston Catus

Born 1853 in Hertford Co., NC. Class of 1875. Became a teacher and then a preacher after graduating.

G. E. Collins

Toured for seven months with the troupe (dates not available).

Joseph B. Towe

From Blackwater, VA. Class of 1875. The troupe’s shouter. Wrote his commencement essay on slave song. Became a teacher after graduating. Married his pupil Anna Taylor. Died 1880.

First bass


James Henry Bailey

Born 1852, Danville, VA. Class of 1876. After graduating, attended Shaw University for a year to further his studies in science and music, then became a teacher.

Robert H. Hamilton

Born a slave in Louisiana. Class of 1877. After graduating taught at Hampton for seven years and had charge of the music program, drilling of the choir, and teaching singing, especially spirituals, to the entire school. In 1880 married Sarah E. Weaver, who died after a few months. In 1884 led and sang in a male quartet from Tuskegee Institute. Married Altoona Killian in 1886 (member of the Hampton 1886 middle class) and directed a troupe from Norfolk Mission College in the summers of 1886 and 1887 (see Norfolk Jubilee Singers). In fall 1887 went to Tuskegee, where he taught and also led the choir.

Second bass


James Monroe Waddy

From Richmond, VA. Class of 1875. Married Grace McLean (class of 1874) after the original Hampton singers disbanded in 1875. After graduation, continued his singing career, in one case with two other Hampton singers (Sallie Davis and Joseph Mebane) in the Virginia Choristers; he also sang with the Hyers sisters; a Chautauqua choir; the Boston Colored Ideal Opera Company (Redpath Lyceum Bureau); and Slavin’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin jubilee singers (see chapter 7), among other groups. He made an extended tour of Europe. He also gave solo concerts with piano accompaniment, unusual at the time for black performers. In 1882 he was a member of the Exodusters, a drama troupe organized by the Northwestern Lyceum Co. (KS) to perform Exodus, a three-act moral musical drama.

John Holt

Born 1848, Hickory Hill, Onslow Co., VA. Class of 1875. Became a teacher and farmer.

Note: Biographical information on the singers compiled from Mary Frances Armstrong and Helen W. Ludlow, Hampton and Its Students (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1874), 127–50; Helen Ludlow, “The Hampton Student Singers,” Southern Workman (May 1894): 72–77 (Hampton University Archives); and Twenty-Two Years’ Work of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute at Hampton, Virginia (Hampton: Normal School Press, 1893); and on Collins and Waddy: “The Colored Exodus” (Leavenworth [KS] Times, 6 Aug. 1882: 5).


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