Letters from my Grandmother - Part 2

My grandmother Nina Clinton in 1908

I know you have been anxiously anticipating the continuation of this letter from my grandmother Nina Hortense Clinton, dated March 27, 1902, while she was in London on tour with Frederick Loudin’s group of “Jubilee Singers.” A side note: since all of this resurgence of interest in my ancestors, I have found two family trees online which show that we are related to Benjamin Banneker! It is actually his sister Mary who is my direct ancestor. Several “new” cousins have contacted me on Facebook and Ancestry.com. The feeling is indescribable. Until now, I always felt that people were interested in me and my parents because of what we did. Now, people are interested in me because of who I AM! It is a wonderful feeling.

Concert program for the Loudin Jubilee Singers. Nina is in the upper left corner.

I have also learned that we are descendants of members of the Lett Settlement in Ohio, which was  “a self-sustaining community of mixed race families. The families had formed ties through marriage and common background during the mid-1700s in Virginia and Maryland. These early African American pioneer families came to Ohio as ‘free people of color,’ and began acquiring land in Meigs Township, Muskingum County, and surrounding townships in adjacent counties during the 1820s. The families of the Lett Settlement were land owners and tax payers in Ohio before the Civil War and challenged the State of Ohio for the right to vote and for access to education during the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s.”¹

Nina’s mother, my great-grandmother was Cecelia A. Lett, whose grandfather was one of the original Lett settlers. She was the second wife of Martin Clinton, Nina’s father. Martin and Cecelia were both “free Negroes,” and Martin owned an ice cream shop. In her letters, my grandmother frequently refers to her longing for ice cream. Now I know why.

Without further ado, here is Part 2 of Nina’s letter from London to her niece Blanche. In this installment she describes meeting the Black composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor, hearing a women’s (“ladies’”) orchestra conducted by a black man, attending a “Wagner Concert,” and visiting All Saints Church in Northampton on Easter Sunday.

 (Continued from Part 1)
     "The last two or three weeks have been very eventful for me. You have doubtless had my long letter by this time and read what I said about Coleridge Taylor², the great colored composer of Music. He lives in Croydon, a suburb of London and has a violin class there. He was having a recital last Friday night and we were invited to attend. Seven of us accepted the invitation. We were his guests for tea at seven o’clock and we went from there to the hall where a rare musical treat was in store for us. It was a ladies’ orchestra.  They were beautifully dressed and some of them seemed quite talented people. But, the thing that was most startling to us (colored people) was to see this little black man walk out on to the platform and take his place as ‘conductor.’ He was applauded most heartily. I tried to imagine a dark man conducting a white orchestra in America, but alas could not stand so much drawing on the imagination. The music rendered was most charming and I felt highly honored to have been one of the guests of S. Coleridge-Taylor. 
      On Monday night we gave a concert at Brixton. I had been asked to sing a solo that night and as I had never committed such an offence before, I felt rather anxious to try. I did so and it was pronounced quite a success. It was really a source of encouragement for me. I do get a little nervous at times but hope it will soon wear off. I consider that a very important event and one which I shall never forget.  
      Saturday afternoon notwithstanding the rain which was coming down in torrents, I went to Queens Hall to one of the Wagner concerts³. Clara Butt4 and Alice Neilson5 were the soloists. The latter is an American girl. She is from Washington and some say that she is colored but that can certainly not be judged by her looks. She is very pretty and wore a pale blue dress and hat to match. She did sing most beautifully. I have heard better voices than hers but few know how to handle the voice better than she does. Clara Butt is a very great favorite in this country and in spite of the rain that day the hall was packed, she being the principal drawing card. She certainly has a rich voice. Queens Hall is, I believe, next in size to London’s largest hall ‘Albert’ which seats 14,000 people. It seems to me that I have never heard such music as that rendered by the Queens Hall Orchestra that day. I had heard it once before when ‘The Messiah’ was rendered but not so good an advantage as on Saturday afternoon because of the former time they were merely accompanying the singers. 
      Blanche, do you remember the afternoon when you when you and Ina and I went to the Opera House to see ‘Ben-hur’? I remember the time but only a slight recollection of the play. Mrs. Loudin6 gave me the book Xmas and I have read it with great interest. The play is to be given in London for a few weeks or perhaps months beginning next Monday night. There is a great deal of talk about it as it is to be put on most elaborately. If I have an opportunity I want to see it again as I am sure it will be interesting now that I have read the book. 
      Well, you wanted to know whether I will be home this Spring or not. I should like very much to come but it would be such an expense. I am very uncertain about it. If I stay over here all summer I am sure I shall be very homesick as I have been already, but you know we cannot always have things just as we would like. We shall have a great many things to talk about when we meet again. 

      It is now Sunday evening and this Easter day has been very pleasantly spent. The day has been rather gloomy, however. We did not have the subject of new hats, dresses, etc. to divert out attention from the true meaning of the day. (As far as straw hats are concerned, they are worn all winter by many – even white straw.) I went to ‘All Saints Church’7 this A.M., a very old structure but a large, aristocratic place. The service was most enjoyable though I was not able to follow it entirely – not being Episcopal. I have spent a great deal of time today thinking of home and of the pleasant Easter days that I have spent there, and wondering what kind of service is being held. 
      This afternoon I went with Mrs. And Mrs. Loudin to take tea with Mr. and Mrs. Marshall who are acquainted with a friend of ours in London. It was really delightful. I shall have to tell you when I come home what the ‘English teas’ are and how they are served. 
      Well, I shall close and try to post this letter tomorrow. We had two very successful concerts here and are leaving tomorrow at 10 A.M. for London. 
      Remember me with love to all of the family when you write. 
      Answer as soon as you can. With love and best wishes,

                                                                         I remain 
                                                                              Your loving Aunt                                                                                          Nina H. Clinton"

For part 3, click here.

And in honor if this Mother's Day...

My grandmother Mrs. Nina Gamble and my mother, Anne Gamble Kennedy in 1957


² Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (15 August 1875 – 1 September 1912) was an English composer and conductor who was mixed-race; his father was a Sierra Leone Creole physician. Coleridge-Taylor achieved such success that he was referred to by white New York musicians as the "African Mahler" at the time when he had three tours of the United States in the early 1900s. He was particularly known for his three cantatas based on the epic poem, Song of Hiawatha by American Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Coleridge-Taylor premiered the first section in 1898, when he was twenty-two.

³ The first Wagner Festival in London began on May 7th and ended on May 29th in 1877. Hans Richter made his English conducting debut at the age of thirty-four during the 1877 festival, and would become a mainstay on England’s podiums for the next three decades. The scope of his orchestral activity in England progressed from the Wagner Festival to the Richter Concerts (1879–1902).

4  Dame Clara Ellen Butt, (1 February 1872 – 23 January 1936) was an English contralto. Her main career was as a recitalist and concert singer. Her voice, both powerful and deep, impressed contemporary composers such as Saint-Saëns and Elgar; the latter composed a song-cycle with her in mind as soloist.

5   Alice Nielsen (June 7, 1872 – March 8, 1943) was a Broadway performer and operatic soprano who had her own opera company and starred in several Victor Herbert operettas.

6   Harriet Johnson Loudin (1845-1907) was the wife of Frederick Jeremiah Loudin (1836-1904), director of the Loudin Jubilee Singers, which went on a six-year-long world tour. Harriet Cassell Johnson graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1864 and served as principal of the infant department at the Philadelphia Association of Friends for the Instruction of Poor Children. She became principal of the preparatory and ladies' departments of Avery College in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1868. She married Loudin in 1870.

7   Simon de Senlis' church of All Hallows, Northampton, England, stood with medieval alterations until disaster struck the town on 20 September 1675. Most of the old town was destroyed by the Great Fire of Northampton. The rebuilt church of All Saints was consecrated and opened in 1680.


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