Bledsoe, Jules, 1898-1943

Alternative names
Birth 1898-12-29
Death 1943-07-14
German, English, French

Biographical notes:

Singer, actor. Bledsoe created the role of Jo and the interpretation of the song "Old Man River" in the original production of "Show Boat" (1927) and is also known for his title role in "The Emperor Jones.".

From the guide to the Jules Bledsoe papers, 1931-1939, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

Singer, actor.

Bledsoe created the role of Jo and the interpretation of the song "Old Man River" in the original production of "Show Boat" (1927) and is also known for his title role in "The Emperor Jones."

From the description of Jules Bledsoe papers, 1931-1939. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122607693

Jules Bledsoe was born as Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe on December 29, 1898, in Waco, Texas. At five years old, he gave his first public vocal performance. Bledsoe originally wanted to pursue a medical career, but instead began studying music under Luigi Parisotti. After years of musical study, including degrees from Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia, Columbia University in New York City, and time in Paris, France, Bledsoe made his concert debut in New York City at twenty-three years old.

Bledsoe adopted the stage name "Jules Bledsoe" early in his career, and was commonly called by that name for the rest of his life. His long literary career included composing and performing music, acting in plays and operas, and writing poems. Bledsoe's work took him around the world, with performances in France, United Kingdom, Norway, Italy, and back to New York City in vaudeville, radio, and television.

Bledsoe played in many productions, including "Showboat," "Aida," "Emperor Jones," "Deep River," "Abraham's Bosom," and others. His signature song was considered to be "Old Man River," which he sang in most concerts he gave. Bledsoe also wrote and performed his own songs and operas, which included folk songs, spirituals, patriotic songs, and operas.

Jules Bledsoe's contributions to his art went beyond his musical skill. He was the first African-American to perform with a United States opera company in America, in addition to performing in operas around the world. Bledsoe was also known as a multilingual singer, proficient in English, Italian, French, German, and Yiddish by 1936.

Jules Bledsoe also owned a resort in New York's Catskill Mountains open only to African-Americans. Called "Jessie's Manna Farms," it is unknown how much profit he made from this side business.

During World War II, Jules Bledsoe assisted in the war effort by giving a war bonds tour around the United States. During one stop in Waco, Texas, his performance was so well received by the 2,500 people in attendance that he gave multiple encores for more than an hour after his show ended.

Jules Bledsoe died on July 14, 1943, in Hollywood, California from a cerebral hemorrhage. Noted Baylor University scholar and head of the English Department, Dr. A.J. Armstrong, spoke at his funeral. Jules Bledsoe is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Waco, Texas.

From the description of Bledsoe (Jules) collection, 1918-1943 1940-1943. (Baylor University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 742059137


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Ark ID:


  • Opera
  • African American composers
  • African American entertainers--Europe
  • African American entertainers
  • African American singers
  • African Americans in the performing arts
  • African Americans--Music
  • Singers
  • African Americans in business
  • African American actors
  • African American businesspeople
  • World War, 1939-1945--Civilian relief


not available for this record


  • Europe (as recorded)
  • Texas--Waco (as recorded)
  • Europe (as recorded)