Amanda Ira Aldridge was the youngest daughter of famous actor Ira Frederick Aldridge, who was born in New York City and who made a career as a Shakespearean actor on the world stages of England, Europe, and United States. He is one of the only African American actors to be honored at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. The success of his career on the stage was beneficial in helping his daughter, Amanda, develop a career in performing as well.
Amanda Ira Aldridge was born in 1866 in the U.K. and lived until age 89, becoming a famous opera singer in Europe. Being a singer of mixed race, (African American and Swedish/Caucasian), and with her family background in the performing arts, she was provided with the opportunities to both obtain an education at the highest level and to have the experiences that she needed to establish a solid career. Aldridge studied voice at the Royal College of Music and performed and taught throughout her life. Throughout her career, she was driven to explore the importance to her ties to African American culture through composition. Aldridge was as a pivotal performer for African American classic songs in this time period.
After studying with Jenny Lind (known as the “Swedish Nightingale”) and George Henschel, Amanda made her career creating and composing art songs that often contained poetry by African American poets. Her most famous work was Three African Dances for piano, which was inspired by West African Drumming. All of her compositions were under a pen name “Montague Ring,” which was an association to her father’s acting career. This was the beginning of sharing African American culture between London and the U.S., more specifically, Harlem. Many students that eventually appeared on U.S. stages had Aldridge as their teacher; among her students were Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson.
Later, Amanda Ira Aldridge turned to Tin Pan Alley to compose music of broader varieties. She was heavily influenced by her parents, who exposed her to a wide pan of diversity. Although it was uncomfortable for her, having been given her European background, Amanda explored world outside of classical music in the U.S. and sought to compose art songs that gave voice to African Americans. She understood that her father had been exposed to an unbalanced playing field in his career, as well as racial bias. Minstrel songs and slave songs were an outlet that he used in advance his career, and this history is reflected through Amanda.
-Eliana Barwinski (Christie Finn, ed.)
This biographical essay is made possible because of the Song of America Initiative for African-American Classic Song, a collaboration between the Hampsong Foundation and Dr. Scott Piper’s Winter 2016 course “The Art Songs of African American Composers” at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Fuller, Sophie. “Aldridge, Amanda Ira.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 16 Nov. 2016. <http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.library.msmnyc.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/2019882>.
Ross, Alex. “Othello’s Daughter: The Rich Legacy of Ira Aldridge, the Pioneering Black Shakespearean.” The New Yorker (July 29, 2013). Web. 16 Nov. 2016. <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/07/29/othellos-daughter>.