Johnson, Katie N.
March 2015
Eugene O'Neill Review (Pennsylvania State University Press);2015, Vol. 36 Issue 1, p1
Academic Journal
Jules Bledsoe, one of the great African American singers, composers, actors, and activists in twentieth-century US culture, is often missing from historical reports of his time. Yet he originated the role of Joe in Show Boat, performed in the first European tour of the operatic version of The Emperor Jones, and composed and arranged important operas, spirituals, and an "Ode to America," dedicated to President Roosevelt. In spite of these accomplishments, Jules Bledsoe has not been given the attention he deserves as an artist of talent, determination, and indomitable spirit. This article seeks to write Bledsoe back into the historical record more broadly and into O'Neill studies in particular. In so doing, I show that the role of Brutus Jones haunted Bledsoe throughout his career, from his rise to stardom abroad as an opera singer to his untimely death at the age of forty-three. In excavating the Emperor's remains, it becomes clear that Bledsoe was a key figure in the rise of modern American theater, opera, and in the struggle for racial equality.


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