Meet singer and composer Jules Bledsoe. A Waco native, and officially named Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe, he lived from 1897-1943 and became one of the first African American performers to have regular employment on Broadway. His baritone voice was made famous in the 1927 version of the musical “Showboat” in which feature he sang “Ol’ Man River.”
Born into a musical family, his talents were recognized at a young age. After graduating as valedictorian in 1914, he then graduated from Bishop College, and went on to study medicine in New York City at Columbia University. While there, his mother passed away, and he rediscovered his love for music. After studying vocals, he professionally debuted in 1924 to outstanding critiques.
Photo: @MusingsOfAmber via Twenty20
Famous for being able to control his vocals and sing in multiple languages, Bledsoe had a varied career in various genres including vaudeville, radio, and movies. His composer credits include “Ode to America,” “Does Ah Luv You?” “African Suite,” “Pagan Prayer,” and “Good Old British Blue.” He performed with the Boston Symphony, the Cleveland Stadium Opera, the Chicago Opera Company, the NYC Cosmopolitan Opera Company, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and The Roya Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. Additional achievements include penning an opera, “Bondage,” based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as well as a set of four songs for voice and the orchestra called “African Suite.”
After receiving praise from Eleanor Roosevelt, international acclaim, and touring exhaustively, Bledsoe died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 14, 1943, in Hollywood, after performing during a war bond drive. He is buried in Waco at Greenwood Cemetery, next to a musically adorning tombstone. Today, his papers are housed in The Texas Collection at Baylor University and include photos, correspondence, and sheet music. The Waco recreation facility, Bledsoe-Miller Community Center, is named for both Jules Bledsoe and Doris Miller.