Episode 214. Ellabelle Davis

Episode 214. Ellabelle Davis



Today I begin a series of interim episodes which will lead up to the debut of Season Five of the podcast in January 2024. These episodes will be shorter, but will still be chock full of interesting singers and subject matter. Today I present the African American soprano Ellabelle Davis (1907-1960) who during the late 1940s and early 1950s was greatly celebrated as a concert singer and who appeared around the world, the “Toast of Three Continents” as an early Musical America ad featuring the soprano proclaimed. She even appeared on the operatic stage, primarily as Aida, though her artistry was best suited to the concert platform. She even made a number of recordings, including two 10-inch LPs for London-Decca records in 1950. In her day she was frequently written up in the New York Times and appeared repeatedly in high-profile concert appearances in the city, and even moreso, around the world, including the Nordic countries, Vienna, and Mexico in particular. Yet her career was slowed by illness, and in fact she died prematurely at the age of 53 of cancer, after attempting a career comeback the previous year. On the episode today I present a number of her extant studio recordings and attempt to place her career within the context of larger social issues in the United States (and around the world) at that time. An upcoming bonus episode will feature even rarer selections from Davis’s recorded legacy.

This photo, from our perspective in quite questionable taste, shows us Ellabelle Davis reenacting her role as seamstress to her wealthy client Louise Crane, who, after hearing her sing, became her mentor.


Traditional Spiritual, arr. Harry T. Burleigh: On My Journey. Ellabelle Davis, Hubert Greenslade [1950]

Alfred Bachelet, Eugène Adénis-Colombeau: Chère nuit. Ellabelle Davis, Kjell Olsson [ca. 1950]

Alfredo Catalani, Luigi Illica: Ebben? ne andrò lontana (La Wally). Ellabelle Davis, Warwick Braithwaite, The New Symphony Orchestra [1950]

Ellabelle Davis with her pet spaniel, Aida

Franz Schubert, Friedrich Rückert: Lachen und Weinen, D. 777. Ellabelle Davis, Hubert Greenslade [1950]

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Florence Price: My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord. Ellabelle Davis, Hubert Greenslade [1950]

Ellabelle Davis and Marian Anderson

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Manny Oets: I Stood on the River of Jordan. Ellabelle Davis, Orchestra conducted by Victor Olof [1950]

Richard Strauss, Richard Dehmel: Befreit, Op. 39/4. Ellabelle Davis, Hubert Greenslade [1950]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.