About Open Ears: So many people who made invaluable contributions to classical music were underappreciated in their time, or have been nearly lost to history. That’s why KDFC is starting Open Ears, a series of stories about composers, musicians, and conductors who deserve more recognition. You can learn more and explore other articles here.

Isaac Newtown once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Barack Obama went on to paraphrase and re-energize that quote when he spoke of civil rights leaders at a 2009 NAACP Convention saying, “Because of them I stand here tonight, on the shoulders of giants. And, I’m here to say thank you to those pioneers and thank you to the NAACP.” Two powerful African-American artists and activists launched themselves into the international limelight of the 20th century with help from a little-known singer, pianist, and teacher by the name of Amanda Ira Aldridge. Singer and civil rights champion Paul Robeson as well as opera legend Marian Anderson both honed their skills and found guidance while working under Amanda Aldridge.

Born in London in 1886, Aldridge was the daughter of Black Shakespearian actor Ira Frederick Aldridge and Swedish opera singer Amanda Brandt. Having shown musical talent early on, Amanda Aldridge went on to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music with international singer Jenny Lind. Lind was wildly popular in the mid and late 19th century in both Europe and the States. She also captured the attention of Felix Mendelssohn towards the end of his life. With coaching from Lind and others, Aldridge was on her way to a formidable career of her own but soon found herself dealing with a throat injury, ending her singing career. Rather than walk away from her musical calling, she played the piano, composed (often using the name Montague Ring) and shared her singing knowledge as an esteemed vocal teacher.

Amanda Aldridge was able to inspire up-and-coming actor and singer Paul Robeson with the confidence and technique needed to complement his deep and powerful voice. Robeson carried his gifts and activism as he joined labor movements and civil rights protests throughout Britain and back home in America.

The same could be said for Aldridge’s other famous student, Marian Anderson, who not only wowed concert audiences but broke down barriers as America’s first great Black opera singer. Anderson too, found herself representing more than just music in the early days of desegregation.

It’s worth remembering that we stand on the hard work and accomplishments of our teachers, mentors, and guides as we walk our paths and remember Amanda Ira Aldridge.