When one speaks of great American musicians during the 1920s one must undoubtedly speak of Roland Hayes, regarded by many as America's greatest tenor during this period. Among his greatest achievements Hayes was the first black American to sing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston Symphony Hall, sung at Carnegie Hall and received the very first Amistad Award for improving human relations.
Hayes was born in a rural Georgia town in 1887 to a family of former slaves. From his youth he always had a beautiful voice and an interest in sharing this with others. It was not until his family's move to Chattanoga, TN that his interest in sharing his gift would realize its potential.
After years of musical training with personal teachers and singing in church choirs, Hayes finally enrolled to study music at Fisk University beginning in 1905. During his time there, Hayes sang with the university's famous Jubilee Singers.
Hayes spent a short spell in Louisville, KY and eventually settled in Boston in 1911 because he felt the city would help him find the greatest opportunity for success vocationally.
Hayes realized his fruit after years of toil and gave his first American concert in 1916. At the concert he sang both Negro Spirituals and classical Lieder. After this point, he began touring the country singing at various black colleges and churches in addition to booking larger venues such as Carnegie Hall.
Still feeling constricted from further success because of his race, Hayes saved money and toured Europe where his ability found better reception. After booking London's Aeolian Hall, Hayes went on to book events in all of Europe's major capitols.
Hayes's European successes enabled him to return to the United States a full-blown musical celebrity.
As a testament to his philanthropy, Hayes insisted that his music be available to all people and so insisted on low admission costs to his events so that people from all races and circumstances could share in his gift.
Additionally, he aided many upcoming singers such as Marian Anderson launch their careers in music, giving lessons and at times, lending even financial support.
Hayes sang until his 75th birthday in 1962, at which time he held a farewell concert at Carnegie Hall to benefit historically black colleges and universities.
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