Brown, Hallie Q.
|MADAM EMMA AZALIA HACKLEY -- 1867-1922|
"The Mind of Music Breathing in Her Face "
Mme. E. Azalia Hackley, Singer, Musician, Humanitarian; a Woman who has made her Life a Masterpiece.
Madam Hackley's mother was a Northern girl who married a Southern man in her home city, Detroit, Michigan, and went to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to live. This was about two years after the Civil War. In Murfreesboro, the young bride opened a school for the freed slaves and continued to teach until the birth of her daughter. Not only were the children's mothers and grandmothers instructed in the three R's, but the young teacher gave them singing lessons at night until stones and other missiles were hurled through the church windows at the Northerner who dared teach do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, do, to ex-slaves. Mrs. Corilla Beard Smith persisted in her efforts to train the voices of the Negroes in the community in spite of the Ku Klux visits and other opposition. After the birth of her daughter, she decided to return to Detroit and Madam E. Azalia Hackley never saw the South until she was a married woman, although her mother persisted that she was "Southern to the core."
To her daughter, Mrs. Smith not only bequeathed her gift of teaching, the love of music and faith in the Negro's voice as a medium and power for good, but she also bestowed pre-natally, the love of duty, the love of service, as well as indomitable will power, tremendous courage and tireless energy.
The talented and severe mother never wearied in
At the beginning of her school life the young Azalia was the only colored child in the Miami School, which was attended by children of the better class of white people, and she soon believed that it was her duty to make her mark as a race representative. At thirteen she was in the high school; at eighteen she began teaching in the public schools of Detroit, having finished both high and city normal schools. She was the first colored girl to appear upon the high school commencement program. At this time she appeared twice to play the class march which she had composed and to sing a solo.
Night after night, while attending high school and even after teaching she played with orchestras until the wee small house of morning, and also gave piano lessons after school hours, to obtain the extra money for music study. She studied both voice culture and the violin, but never had a piano lesson, although she absorbed music from her musical mother.
After about five years teaching, when first assistant of the Clinton School, she married and went to Denver, Colo., although the next year she expected to be made principal. Detroit was proud of its talented, energetic daughter, and called her the "pet of Detroit," but it was in Denver, where she became popular along broader racial lines. Here she conquered every kind of prejudice and opposition until both white and colored believed she would be a good candidate for State Senator. Madam Hackley declared that it was in Denver where she "found" herself and developed and it is Denver that she wanted for her last "camping place" in the long, long rest.
In this western city she received her degree as Bachelor
During all of her professional life the color question has played a tantalizing temptation. Immediately after graduation, while abroad and even recently offers have been made for our singer to cross the color fence and lose identity with her race. But the loyal race woman wittily remarked that she was "pre-natally marked for everything black and she gets color hungry when she is among palefaces."
This is one reason why we loved her. She loved her race, and has proven it, time and again. The race has done what it could for her and she has clung to it and has given its offerings over and over to those who have' been struggling for a chance in the arena of life.
When the altitude of Denver affected her health, she started East for more study and fell into the groove of a concert singer, an occupation for which she had no preference or liking. How well she fulfilled this position for years as the leading artist of the race will go down as race history. She is one singer who made and held her position by sheer merit. She dignified the profession. She directed her whole career alone and made a success of every effort she put forth.
Believing that no amount of professional singing by herself or by all the artists of the race combined would instruct audiences to a proper degree of appreciation, in order that the race might benefit musically and that future musical audiences might result, she changed her programs from the old-fashioned rule of one or two showy songs, to lecture-recitals and demonstrations. From school to school,
THEN CAME HER VISION OF FOLK SONG FESTIVALS, AND THE REVIVING, DIGNIFYING, AND PRESERVATION OF THE NEGRO FOLK SONGS to educate the masses of the people through mammoth entertainments planned along the line of logical musical development.
She developed into our national vocal teacher and her tremendous success because she studied her people musically and knew what they needed. While the Normal Vocal Institute in Chicago was her headquarters, the whole race was her school, for she taught from ocean to ocean. Her pupils and protegees are passing on her ideas and she lived to see the fruit of her efforts and sacrifices.
Negro posterity will owe her a lasting debt, not only musically, but of her love and faith in the race and her unceasing efforts to inspire the race with faith in itself. She also stands as an example of what a handicapped colored woman can accomplish for herself along musical lines, all by her own efforts, and how much can be done by one person for race musical uplift.
A prominent club woman in writing of Madam Hackley says, "It is impossible to describe this gifted woman of our race. Words fail." She was a woman of the highest ideals and was a born leader. So successful was her
She was a born humanitarian following out St. Luke's instruction, "If you have two coats, give one." The best of herself, the best she had, she always gave. Not only did she make her life count, but she pulled up others and made their lives count also. Possessed of great business instinct and judgment, she not only managed her own business affairs, but repeatedly burdened herself with the care of others. Her decisions generally proved prophecies.
She was so dead in earnest about musical social uplift that sacrifices and total self-effacement were a pleasure to her. She was an optimist and had many visions for race progress, many of which she helped to fulfillment. Her versatility and energy were remarkable. While always busy she was never too tired to help out a plan for race uplift. She did not rust out but wore our beautifully.
People marveled at her wonderful energy, but she received strength from many unseen sources, besides the "Great Source," which had chosen her as a handmaiden to lift a gifted people from musical bondage. She was a passionate lover of nature in all its manifestations, and of the beautiful in art. She was artistic in everything, and loathed anything spectacular or sensational, along any line.
When Madam Hackley passed out of her orbit of usefulness, her face bore the reflection of a well spent life and beautiful thoughts and motives. She has not only opened the eyes and ears of the Negroes everywhere to show the relationship between their God-given talents and the every day affairs of life, but she has given an original,
She has given us a new Philosophy of Emotional Control as it pertains to the Negro, and she has taught Negro children a higher appreciation of their bodies and racial characteristics than any one else has done.
Her creed is "Love." "The greatest of these is love." Cor. 13:13.
She has given us a standard of race musician that is new. She was endowed with spiritual gifts and carried love in her heart for her people, and it was long evident that she was chosen to do this missionary labor. She let her light shine not only to brighten the pathway of the dark race in musical darkness through its singing, but she assisted the Great Purpose which has given the Negro a voice that he may sing his way into the hearts of other races, and through his voice work out the higher, nobler purpose of life.
Madam Hackley gave most of her time toward elevating and dignifying Negro Folk Songs due to her keen appreciation of their beauty, rythm and harmony coupled with their naturalness for many looked with shame upon these soul-stirring songs, ignorant of their spiritual and emotional significance.
She was a pioneer teaching the masses to love their folk songs, hence she had little time for composition, yet she has given us "Carola" a song of beauty, art and love.
She has also contributed to literature in her book entitled "The Colored Girl Beautiful."
Madam Hackley's life is a story of lofty purposes and brilliant achievements.
"Exalt her and she shall promote thee, she shall bring thee to honor." Prov. 4:8.