I learned to read music on a Chickering baby grand piano that had belonged to my great-grandmother, A’Lelia Walker, but it really was my mother, A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, and my grandmother, Mae Walker Perry, who had musical talent. As the only legally adopted daughter of A’Lelia Walker and granddaughter of entrepreneur Madam C. J. Walker, Mae had been afforded many privileges, including harp lessons and enrollment at Spelman College.
Several years ago, I discovered this program from lyric tenor Roland Hayes’s January 15, 1924 program at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall among Mae’s personal belongings. It now is part of my Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives. At the time of the concert, Mae recently had moved to Chicago. Like others in the city’s black community, she had looked forward to hearing Hayes sing selections–including Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” black British composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s “Hiawatha” and spirituals like “Go Down Moses” — in one of Hayes’s first American concerts after his return from a very successful European tour. After the performance, one black newspaper reported: “The absolute hush that has been referred to so often in Mr. Hayes’ concerts was evident here as before, for the audience seemed not to want to miss a note that was so beautifully produced. The wonderful diction, which made every person able to understand the words uttered even if in a foreign language, that they were not able to interpret. His German, French and Italian were given with the ease and accuracy of a native of those countries, and it is interesting to know that Mr. Hayes speaks French and German. Encores were many and still more were desired.”
Hayes (June 3, 1887 to Janaury 1, 1977) was a “lyric tenor and considered to be the first African American male concert artist to receive major critical acclaim.”
No doubt, Mae was among the fashionably dressed members of the crowd who caught the reporter’s attention. “The boxes were occupied by many whose names stand at the top of the North side social registers. The magnificent furs and evening wraps of the boxholders and the audience in general made one think of the Auditorium at this season.”
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