The marker, issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and sponsored by the African American Historical Society of Portsmouth, was one of two markers unveiled at the dedication ceremony. The other was to honor Portsmouth-born Ruth Brown, a best-selling African American recording artist who helped “usher in the rock’n’roll genre” in the mid 1950s.
The marker honoring Sissieretta was placed at the corner of Green and North streets near the Emanuel AME church in Portsmouth. The text of the marker for Sissiseretta says:
Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones
“Born Matilda, S. Joyner in Portsmouth 1869, Sissieretta Jones (1869-1933) was a trailblazing African American pioneer of the concert and theatrical stages during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She studied music at the Providence School of Music and the New England Conservatory in Boston. Jones sang for several U.S. presidents and at the Chicago world’s fair in 1893. While performing with the ‘Black Patti Troubadours’ she always closed each show with brilliant renditions of opera and gospel music. Her popularity spanned the globe, and she received medals and lavish gifts from many foreign heads of state.”
The marker was dedicated at a small ceremony hosted by the African American Historical Society of Portsmouth in partnership with the Emanuel AME Church. A small group attended the afternoon ceremony, said Mae Breckenridge-Haywood, president of the Society, who served as master of ceremonies.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927, is considered the oldest in the nation. Many thanks to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the African American Historical Society of Portsmouth for honoring Sissieretta Jones and Ruth Brown.
January 13, 2015
Maureen D. Lee
author of Sissieretta Jones, “The Greatest Singer of Her Race,” 1868-1933
published by University of South Carolina Press, May 2012