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A Gravestone for Sissieretta Jones

$6,296 of $6,250 goal

Raised by 126 people in 11 months
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A Gravestone for Sissieretta Jones

The internationally renowned soprano, Sissieretta Jones (1868-1933), a trailblazer for women of color in the world of opera, lies in an unmarked grave at the Grace Church Cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island. As her biographer, I, in conjunction with the Stages of Freedom, a non-profit in Providence, want to change that by raising $6,250 to purchase a headstone to mark her final resting place.

 We need your help to make that happen. Our goal is to raise the money by May 5, 2018 so we can have the marble headstone cut, engraved and placed at the cemetery in time to unveil it during a four-day celebration, June 7-10, to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Sissieretta Jones’s birth.

 Few people today know about Sissieretta Jones, yet she was one of the first African Americans to sing at Carnegie Hall and she performed at Madison Square Garden, London’s Covent Garden, and the White House. She had a long and prosperous career as an international singing star at a time when few opportunities were available to African American women and segregation and racial discrimination were the norm.


 
Sissieretta Jones – Her Story

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War. In 1876, her family moved to Providence, Rhode Island. She got her start singing in Providence churches. She received vocal training in that city and later in Boston and New York.

 At the age of fifteen, she married David Richard Jones. Her first big break came in 1888 when she was hired as the star of an African American troupe that toured throughout the West Indies.

 Her career consisted of two parts. The first part, 1888-1896, she sang opera selections, concert ballads, and European art songs on the concert stage. The press dubbed her “Black Patti,” a sobriquet likening her to the great European opera star Adelina Patti. She toured in the West Indies, parts of South America and Europe, and extensively throughout the United States and Canada.

During her concert years the young soprano sang at Carnegie Hall four times, sang at the White House for President Benjamin Harrison and his guests, was the star soprano at a 3-day “Grand Negro Jubilee” at New York’s Madison Square Garden, sang at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and performed at an 1894 concert directed by the famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorák.



The second half of her career, 1896-1914, she was the star of an all-black musical comedy troupe called the Black Patti Troubadours (later named the Black Patti Musical Comedy Company). This company, owned and managed by two white men, provided her the opportunity to continue singing operatic arias and serious music when there were fewer lucrative concert opportunities available to her.

Sissieretta, often billed as the “greatest singer of her race,” was the pride of African Americans during her day. She was highly successful, well-paid, and greatly admired for her work. Her concert performances were well attended by both black and white audiences. Her beautiful voice, singing operatic arias rather than minstrel songs, gave white audiences a new appreciation for the talent and potential of African American vocalists.

Unfortunately, no recording of her voice has ever been found, but hundreds of newspaper reviews give testament to the beauty of her voice and her captivating stage presence.

Sissieretta sang her last concert in 1915 at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. She spent the rest of her years, until her death in 1933, living in Providence, where she taught social graces to girls of color at tea parties in her home and sang in her church choir.  She had to sell her valuables, such as her silver, jewelry and rental properties, to pay for living expenses. One newspaper reported that she even took a job as a cook for a wealthy family. She died quite poor.  A friend and benefactor ensured she was buried in Providence’s Grace Church Cemetery next to her mother, rather than in a pauper’s grave. To this day, neither grave has a marker.

 We Need Your Help!

You can change that by making a donation to purchase a headstone for Sissieretta’s grave. NO DONATION IS TOO SMALL (OR TOO LARGE)! Please help us with this important project and be part of a wonderful tribute as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sissieretta Jones’s birth. Please share this page on your social media sites so we can reach even more potential donors.

How Funds Will be Spent

The funds we seek ($6,250) will cover all costs and fees connected to the gravestone for Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones and the unveiling ceremony in June 2018. These costs include purchasing a large marble stone; the engraving of her epitaph; transporting the stone to the historic Grace Church Cemetery; placement in the ground; protective fence; printed program for dedication ceremony; soloist and reception.

 If any additional funds are raised during this campaign, those dollars will be used to add an image of Sissieretta on the gravestone and help pay for the costs associated with other Sissieretta Jones birthday celebration events in June– an exhibit, a lecture, a concert and a play.

 
Who Is Asking for Your Support?

Maureen Lee, author of Sissieretta Jones: “The Greatest Singer of Her Race,” 1868-1933 (published 2015, University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, SC.

 Stages of Freedom, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Providence, Rhode Island. The organization’s mission is three-fold:

(1)  To provide youth of color access to swimming programs in order to reduce the number of drownings in the minority community.

(2)  To build community by creating and providing programming about Black Rhode Island life and culture to a wide audience.

(3)  To educate and empower inner-city youth by providing cultural opportunities and access to museums and live performance.

 Please consider getting involved. Thank you for your support!







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Dear donors,

This is my final report to you about the successful GoFundMe campaign to get a gravestone for Sissieretta Jones.

Many thanks for your donations and efforts to spread the word about this project. Your help made it possible to finally, after 85 years, honor Sissieretta Jones with a tombstone to mark her grave at Providence’s Grace Episcopal Church Cemetery. Thanks to you, she has a large, beautiful gravestone, cut from Vermont granite that is adorned with a porcelain enameled brass cameo likeness of her.

Sissieretta’s mother, Henrietta Crenshaw, who lies next to her, also lacked a gravestone. The plot where they are buried is so small it was impossible to place another stone there. Instead, her mother’s name was engraved on the back of Sissieretta’s stone.

The other feature on the gravestone is a scannable memory medallion. When scanned with a cell phone, it links to a website with information about Sissieretta and some photographs. The website also has a list of all your names, our donors, (except those who wanted to remain anonymous), so people will know who helped make it possible. The link to see the website is https://www.memorymedallion.com/view_medallion/view.php?id=2835acf1b5aaa6ade0d10b4c977e912a

The ceremony on Saturday, June 9, 2018 to unveil the monument was very moving. After a procession through the cemetery to the grave site, we heard words of praise and prayer from five ministers, listened to a trumpet solo, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” performed by Ritchee Price and a vocal solo, the “Negro National Anthem,” by Angela Nash Wade. Then all those present placed a rose on Sissieretta’s grave. Such a fitting tribute for this incredible soprano!

Special thanks go to my GoFundMe partners, Ray Rickman and Robb Dimmick, founders of the Providence non-profit organization, Stages of Freedom. They saw to every detail related to procuring the gravestone, its design, installation, and the incredible unveiling ceremony they planned and coordinated. Thanks also goes to to the Warren Monument Company in Rhode Island for their outstanding work and assistance.

I’m glad we all worked together to honor Sissieretta Jones, the great soprano also known as “Black Patti,” as we celebrated the 150th anniversary of her birth.

Thank you.

Maureen D. Lee
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Sissieretta Jones 150th anniversary celebration and conference begins tomorrow in Providence, RI. Please join us for these free events! Here's a list of the activities. For more information go to http://www.stagesoffreedom.org/sissieretta-jones
The only event were seating has reached capacity is my keynote speech on Friday, June 8th.
Hope you can come and celebrate with us!
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Dear Donors,
Wanted to share these photos of Sissieretta's headstone being delivered to her gravesite yesterday (in the pouring rain) at Grace Church Cemetery in Providence Rhode Island. Still a few finishing touches to be made to the gravestone by the Warren Monument company before the formal unveiling on Saturday, June 9th. You all helped to make this dream a reality. Will be in touch after Saturday to show you the finished gravestone. Many thanks to all of you. To see a video of this, go to Facebook and look for Sissieretta Jones page.
Me & Ryan of Warren Monument Co.
Robb Dimmick of Stages of Freedom & Ryan
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What a wonderful story in the Providence Journal about preparations for Sissieretta’s gravestone (See link below.) Be sure to come to the unveiling in Providence on June 9 if you’re in the area!! Thank you donors for making this happen! Also, thanks to Ray Rickman and Robb Dimmick of Stages of Freedom and Ryan and Warren Monuments!

http://providencejournal.com/news/20180524/marking-legacy-of-providence-singer-sissieretta-jones
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$6,296 of $6,250 goal

Raised by 126 people in 11 months
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