Happy International Kreyol Day! Kreyol (Creole) history and opera history are inseparable here in New Orleans. With the help of OperaCréole‘s Givonna Joseph, we are shining the spotlight on five musicians of Louisiana Kreyol Heritage.
Edmond Dédé (1827-1903)
Freeman of color, composer, conductor, and violinist – New Orleans
Edmond Dédé was born free in 1827 in New Orleans, LA. His parents emigrated from the West Indies as free people. Trained at the Paris Conservatory, Dédé published his first piece, Mon Pauvre Coeur in 1852. He was a regular conductor in Paris and Bordeaux, conducting such works as Bellini’s La Sonnambula at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux in 1863. Dédé wrote six operas, five operettas, and many piano, vocal, and orchestral works. One of his operas, Morgiane ou Le Sultan d’Ispahan (1887), has not yet been performed. Hear the overture to this opera below.
Lenora Lafayette (1926-1975)
Soprano and opera star – Baton Rouge
Lenora Lafayette was the first major opera star of color. She attended McKinley High School in Baton Rouge and went on to receive special training at Fisk University. In 1947, she won the Marian Anderson Award, recognizing the use of the arts for the betterment of society. A year later, she won a $2,000 Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to study at Juilliard School of Music in New York and, in 1950, she won the $3,000 John Hay Whitney Fellowship to study in Europe. Just a year later, in 1951, she starred in Aida at the Basel Opera House in Switzerland. The company was so impressed, they offered her a contract for the full season shortly after. On the afternoon of Jan. 28, 1953, Lafayette received a phone call asking her to come to London to perform the leading role in Aida. With mere hours left, Lafayette made her way to the Covent Garden to give a performance that went on to receive rave reviews.
Lucien Lambert, fils (1858–1945)
Composer and pianist – France
Lucien Lambert was born in Paris into a major New Orleans Creole family of free musicians of color. He was the son of New Orleans free Creole composer of color, Charles Lucien Lambert, with whom he played piano concerts in Brazil alongside Louis Moreau Gottschalk. He was a student of Jules Massenet and won the Prix Rossini in 1885 with his cantata Prométhée enchaîné. His first opera, Le Spahi, set in Senegal, premiered in Paris in 1897. His operas La Broceliande, La Marseillaise, and La Flamenca were subsequently premiered in France. La Flamenca made its American premiere in New Orleans in the 2017 production by OperaCréoleat The Marigny Opera House, featured below. Lambert was one of the first artists to ever be recorded, recording 3 cylinders (the earliest form of the phonograph) in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1905. He later worked as a Professor of Composition at the Oporto Conservatory in Portugal from 1922 to 1937.
Camille Nickerson The Louisiana Lady (1888-1982)
Pianist, Diplomat, Singer, Educator, and Arranger – New Orleans
Camille Nickerson was a child prodigy born to a musical family in New Orleans where she was a member of her family’s musical ensemble, the Nickerson Ladies’ Orchestra, from an early age. She was educated at Oberlin College where she arranged 5 Creole Folk Songs for her master’s thesis. She was a professor at Howard University and performed in concert at The Pythian Theatre in New Orleans. From 1935 to 1938, Nickerson was president of the National Association of Negro Musicians and also served as a representative of the U.S. State Department on international tours. When she returned to New Orleans, she ran a music school with her father, William Joseph Nickerson.
Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869)
Composer and pianist – New Orleans
Gottschalk’s father was a Jewish businessman and his mother was of Saint Domingue descent (believed to be mulatto). He was the first American-born pianist to achieve international fame, performing mega piano concerts with New Orleans-born Charles Lucien Lambert and his son Lucien (profiled above) in Brazil. He drew inspiration from African and Cuban styles, which he incorporated into his works. He also helped Afro-Cuban violinist and composer Joseph White (1836-1918) travel to France to audition for the Paris Conservatory. Louis Gottschalk died in Rio de Janeiro three weeks after collapsing on stage while playing his favorite piece, Morte!! (She Is Dead). We know that Gottschalk composed at least one opera, titled Escenas Campestres.
Research of Givonna Joseph of OperaCréole www.africlassical.com Research of Dominique-Rene DeLerma Creole by Sybil Kein Music in New Orleans by Henry Kmen CreoleGen.org The Exile’s Song by Sally McKee Historic New Orleans Collection Music and Some Highly Musical People byTrotter Nos Hommes et Notre Histoire by Rodolphe Desdunes