Sissieretta (Joyner) Jones (1868-1933), a former Providence, Rhode Island resident, dazzled audiences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with her beautiful soprano voice. This gifted African American vocalist, whom the press dubbed the “Black Patti,” (a comparison to opera diva Adelina Patti) overcame substantial obstacles of racial bias to build a successful and lucrative 28-year career performing in hundreds of opera houses and theaters throughout North America and Europe.
As a concert singer, she performed ballads, operatic pieces and classic art songs. In 1896 she continued singing these selections as star of an all-black troupe, the Black Patti Troubadours (1896-1908), and later the Black Patti Musical Comedy Company (1909-1914).
In 1915, she retired to her home in Providence, where she lived until her death in 1933. Unfortunately, her financial situation deteriorated during her retirement years, causing her to sell four pieces of rental property and many of her treasures — silver, jewelry, paintings, and clothing.
William P. H. Freeman, Sissieretta’s friend and benefactor, helped her financially over the years. After her death, Freeman, a realtor and past president of the local NAACP chapter, saw to it that Sissieretta was not buried in a pauper’s grave, but instead placed next to her mother, Henrietta Crenshaw, at the Grace Church Cemetery in Providence. Sissieretta’s remains lie in an unmarked grave in this historic cemetery, where no one can bring flowers to honor this internationally renowned soprano because there is no headstone to show where she is buried. (Sissieretta was buried in lot 302 and her mother in lot 303 according to RI Historical Cemetery Commission records. See markings on cemetery map below.)
As her most recent biographer, I, Maureen Lee, in partnership with Stages of Freedom, a Providence, non-profit organization whose mission includes creating and providing programs about Black Rhode Island life and culture to a wide audience, want to raise $6,250 to purchase a headstone to mark Sissieretta’s final resting place.
We have initiated a GoFundMe page to that end. Our goal is to raise the money by May 5, 2018, so we can have a large marble headstone cut, engraved, transported and placed at the cemetery along with a protective fence surrounding it. We will unveil it at a public ceremony. This ceremony would the be the final event during a four-day celebration in Providence, June 7-10, 2018, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Sissieretta Jones’s birth.
We need your help to make this happen. No donation is too small or too large. Please visit https://www.gofundme.com/HonorSissieretta and make a donation. Also, please share news of this campaign on your social media sites.
Maureen D. Lee
February 19, 2018
Author of Sissieretta Jones: “The Greatest Singer of Her Race,” 1868-1933, published 2012 by the University of South Carolina Press.