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DECEMBER 29, 1898 - JULY 14, 1943

Lillian Baritone Jules Bledsoe was born in Waco, Texas. He enrolled at Bishop College and Virginia Union College before studying medicine at Columbia University, all the while continuing his vocal training. He made his professional début at Aeolian Hall in New York in 1924, sponsored by impresario Sol Hurok. Bledsoe appeared in the opera Deep River in 1926 and a year later created the role of Joe in Showboat, becoming known for the song, “Ol’ Man River”. He performed in Verdi’s Aïda with the Chicago Civic Opera Company but lost the lead in the operatic adaptation of O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1933) to Lawrence Tibbet. Regardless, Bledsoe starred in the European premiere of The Emperor Jones, performing that work in several countries and, eventually, back in New York City. In addition to his operatic work, Bledsoe recorded, wrote songs, composed an opera (Bondage), and appeared in several films in the early 1940s.

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