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Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

by Sandra Jean Graham

Web Table 4.2. Personnel of the original Tennesseans, formed 1873, directed by John Wesley Donavin



Callie Pickett

Also organist.

Lizzie Ewing

A soloist, noted for her rendition of “Old Folks at Home” by Foster.

Georgie Brown

Seems to have dropped in and out of the group; was with them in February 1874 (Wheeling [WV] Daily Intelligencer, 10 Feb.) but not in October of that year (Republican Banner, 22 Oct. 1874).



Laura Bowman


Belle Sayles




Joseph Gregory

With John Watson (see below), listed as the only two tenors for a fall performance in Nashville (Republican Banner, 22 Oct. 1874); unknown exactly when they left the troupe.

James Lamar


Frank A. Stewart

Leading tenor for eight years. Married troupe member Jennie Robinson (who had joined by 1878). In 1881 organized the Stewart-Wilberforce Concert Company, which for two years sang on behalf of Wilberforce University, Xenia, OH, before going private under Stewart’s proprietorship.

John Watson

With troupe in 1874.

H. W. Wilson

Named as “solo tenor of Donavin’s Original Tennesseans” on sheet music to “The Forest Roamer” by L. N. D. Pickett (New York: Wm. A. Pond, 1883; Library of Congress,



Alex Brown
Rush Morton

Notices for Nashville appearance in fall 1874 listed three basses: Brown, Morton, and Pickett (Republican Banner, 22 Oct. 1874). Pickett is the only one of the three that stayed on.

Leroy N. D. Pickett

Full name Leroy Nicholas Darlington Pickett. Arranged spirituals for the troupe. Soloist on organ, cornet, violin, xylophone. Later became musical director of the Tennesseans and, in 1886, director of the Wilberforce Concert Company. Composed parlor songs, of which at least three survive as sheet music (“Forest Roamer,” 1883; “Among the Lilies,” 1884; “Sweet Mignonette,” 1887).

John Thomas

With troupe in 1874.

Sources: “Amusements: The Tennesseans,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 Feb. 1874; C. A. White, arr., Stewart-Wilberforce Concert Co. (Xenia, OH, 1883); “Songs of the Tennesseans,” undated broadside (Center for Popular Music, Middle Tennessee State University); Programme of the Tennesseans Slave Cabin Concerts, ca. 1875 (University of Alabama Libraries).

In 1881 Minnie L. Robinson, of Pittsburgh, PA, had just closed a season with the Tennesseans (“The Colored Exodus,” Leavenworth [KS] Times, 6 Aug. 1882: 5).

When Ike Simond wrote his memoir Old Slack’s Reminiscence and Pocket History of the Colored Profession from 1865 to 1891 (Chicago, 1891), he listed the following among the Tennesseans’ most prominent singers over the course of its existence: Joe Hagerman, Fred Carey (who in 1881 performed with the Nashville Students [Thearle], an independent jubilee troupe), “Professor” Johnson, Maggie Peterson, Jennie Carter, Annie Jackson, Charles Moore (who also performed with the Nashville Students [Thearle], in the mid-1880s), the Harper sisters, Leroy Pickett, Joe Davis, the Hitchcock Sisters, and Winston (no first name given) (20). Jennie Carter was an alto and burlesque artist who was just beginning her career in 1882 (“The Colored Exodus,” Leavenworth [KS] Times, 6 Aug. 1882: 5).


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