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Up Beat Down South "Deep River": The Life ofRoland Hayes BY GAVIN JAMES CAMPBELL /wasn't so interestedin the money. Iwas intoxicated by thefact thatIhad broken through. —RolandHayes Classical tenor Roland Hayes (1887—1976). Courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives. On 3 June 1 887 a black boy was born in a small cabin near Litde Row (now Curryville ) in Gordon County, Georgia. His parents, both former slaves, could never have dreamed in even this moment of highest hopes that their new son would eventually conquer one of the most segregated places in America: the concert stage. In time, Roland Hayes would rise from sharecropping on his parents' small Georgia farm to earning $100,000 a year as one of the most celebrated tenors of the age. This extraordinary transformation did not come easily. Awkwardly situated between black and white worlds at a time of rigid segregation, Hayes encountered bitterness, derision, and hostility at many turns. Yet through quiet perseverance , gende dignity, artistic mastery, and a career spanning more than fifty years, he became a pioneer in combating racism, opening opportunities for subsequent African American performers, and forging a place ofhonor in the classical repertoire for the African American spiritual. By the time of his death on 3 1 December 1976, Hayes had successfully communicated across the color line and made a unique and lasting impression on the world of classical music. Roland Hayes was one of seven children born to William and Fanny Hayes. After his father died when Roland was eleven, his mother sharecropped for two years to save money to move the family to Chattanooga, where, she hoped, a city education could save her children from the ceaseless toil of dirt farming. She planned to let her youngest boy, Jesse, attend school full time; Roland and his brother Robert would trade offworking for a year while the other went to school. In 1900 Fanny put her plan in motion. Roland found work at a factory producing window-sash weights where he earned eighty cents a day. His nimble mind and his steady work habits stood him in good stead, and after a few years he was promoted to foreman at three dollars a day. Because his relatively well-paying job was so crucial to the family's income, he abandoned his studies, never continuing past sixth grade. What Hayes lacked in formal education, he made up for in musical talent. As a young farm boy in Georgia, he was deeply influenced by the old spirituals and hymns that he heard at his mother's church, and by his father's love of birdcalls and natural sounds. Hayes had a marvelous voice, and after moving to Chattanooga , he found that black churches were eager to enlist him as a soloist. Following one Sunday service Arthur Calhoun, a young African American who had recendy received a degree in music from Oberlin, approached Hayes and urged him to take up formal studies. Calhoun offered to give Hayes a few lessons, and Hayes accepted despite his mother's pious objections to his growing interest in the stage. Calhoun began to train his young protege's voice and introduced him to the standard works in the classical repertoire. One memorable evening Calhoun escorted Hayes to the home of a local white man who owned many recordings of great contemporary opera singers. Hayes entered the home with trepidation. "I felt . . . rather overcome with awe ofmy surroundings," he later reI16 OAVlN JAMES CAMPBELL membered. "It was not a mansion; but I had never before been in any but the homes of poor colored people; so it HdVBS Was told seemed very grand to me." His host put on a recording of ,, , 7 .,77 „, , ¦ „* -c ¦ r u »j that whites would the eras preeminent tenor, Enrico Caruso. Hayes stood transfixed. Itwas "a religious conversion," Hayes recalled. ??ß?ß? QO to hear a "The beautyofwhat could be done with the humanvoice /_/ /, just overwhelmed me." He knew from that moment that¿> he wished to sing like Caruso.classicalmUSlC. Following Calhoun's urgings, Hayes decided to pursue a degree from Oberlin. On his journey there, however, Hayes gave several recitals, the cost ofwhich all but gobbled up his savings. Fortunately...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 112-114
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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