Henry Bibb, former slave, author, activist, was born on May 10, 1815 in the state of Kentucky.  He was a mulatto, the illegitimate son of a white state senator and accomplished attorney named James Bibb and a mixed race slave woman, Mildred Jackson, who was owned by Willard Gatewood.  His mother had six other children.  Like many slaves of the times, Bibb was separated from his family, his siblings were sold off and he was hired out to different slave owners, spending years away from his mother.

Having no rights as a slave, Bibb was powerless when he married in his teens, only to have the wife he loved hired out as a prostitute by her owner. Bibb decided to do the only thing he could: run away.  He made several unsuccessful attempts at escape, finally obtaining success in in 1837 at the age of 22.  He returned six months later to help his family escape, however, he was caught and the family was sold to a master in Vicksburg.


While in captivity in Vicksburg Bibb attempted to escape again, but was thwarted by a pack of wild wolves, the animals cornered the family and they were eventually captured.  The slave owners sold Bibb to Native Americans, which Bibb escaped from.  He was never able to rescue his family from bondage.

HIS FATHER, U. S. Senator,

Henry never knew Senator James Bibb.  It was the way of the South and the white plantation owner never acknowledged his existence.


Bibb toured the country lecturing with the famous Frederick Douglas and William Wells Brown.  He met his second wife while lecturing in Boston – Mary Miles and they married in 1848.


He wrote Narratives of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, where he describes in vivid detail the harsh experiences he underwent in bondage.


In the 1850s, Bibb crossed the border into Canada and made the nation his home.  He founded the Voice of the Fugitive, and he encouraged slaves and other blacks to relocate to Canada.

From the Myrtle Hart Society, Myrtlehart.org:

Francis Johnson’s ensemble – (from Wikipedia and other internet sources)


Johnson was born in Martinique in the West Indies in 1792. He moved to Philadelphia around 1809. Johnson directed military bands and society dance orchestras, taught music, and performed on the violin and keyed bugle. His early career consisted of performing for balls, parades, and dancing schools. He first became widely known in 1818 when George Willig published Johnson’s Collection of New Cotillions. His career flourished in the 1820s, as he performed arrangements of “fashionable” music for most of the major dance functions in Philadelphia. In 1837 Johnson and a small ensemble of his best African American musicians sailed to England to take part in the celebrations surrounding the ascent of Queen Victoria to the British throne, according to author Charles Kelley Jones in his book, Francis Johnson (1794-1844); chronicles of a black musician in early 19th Century Philadelphia.Francis not only met the Queen, but was also interviewed by her.  While there, he was exposed to the promenade concert style. When Johnson returned from England in 1838 he introduced this new style of concert in Philadelphia during the Christmas season.


In 1853, President Jackson visited Philadelphia and Johnson’s band was hired to perform. President Jackson reportedly stumbled while walking to “Hail to The Chief,” and in recovering he made eye contact with each of Johnson’s band members, impressed by the discipline of the corps, and as a result, they were honored and made him an honorary member.  In his diary, Johnson wrote about meeting with Andrew Jackson for breakfast and bringing him wine.  He called the President, “clever.”

Johnson’s Voice Quadrilles, a musical work performed in London and in major U.S. cities, was well-received and successful. His work New Cotillions and March was performed for General LaFayette, as America celebrated LaFayette’s visit in 1824. A townsman in Philadelphia noted that nothing would be more natural than for a master such as Johnson to perform at the grand LaFayette Ball.[citation needed] This notoriety is a hint as to why Johnson’s music was included in compilations alongside Beethoven, Bellini, Brahms, Burgmüller, Czerny, Donizetti and Weber.[citation needed]

Johnson successfully rivaled white musical organizations, receiving patronage from the public in spite of the considerable racial discrimination of the time. Available accounts show that his composition and playing must have had qualities which cannot be reconstructed from the surviving manuscripts. Historical accounts suggest that his performances infused stylistic rhythmic changes, differing from the written versions, which were either inferred by performers or instructed verbally.[citation needed] This is presumed to be similar to the improvisations made by jazz musicians today, although the current practices and idioms are probably vastly different from the ones used by Johnson. He was able to create interesting music, harmonies, and effects that differed from the diatonic harmonies and triadic melodies that were popular at that time. (Southern 112–113)

Johnson also performed sacred music at African American churches in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. He staged a performance of Haydn’s Creation in March 1841 at the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and later repeated the performance at a white church.

Johnson served as a teacher to wealthy white students, one of whom wrote that the teacher’s studio walls were covered with images of instruments, various instruments could be found around the room, and shelves were laden with thousands of musical collections. The student noted that Johnson’s spot for composing contained unfinished manuscripts, with pen and ink ready for use.[citation needed]


Musical Innovations

The Philadelphia Public Ledger newspaper reported that Johnson introduced the extended technique of singing while playing,[citation needed] which has become more common today as a way of providing wind instrumentalists a means of producing harmonies. The use of flute obbligato to imitate the chirping of canaries in his “Bird Waltz” was “so natural that the keenest perception cannot discover the difference.”[citation needed] Composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel may have been influenced by Johnson’s techniques.[citation needed] The orchestral version of Ravel’s “Ma Mère l’Oye” (Mother Goose) features a similar effect in the “Tom Thumb” movement, where flutes depict the chirping birds that steal the breadcrumb trail.

The work Philadelphia Fireman’s Quadrille astounded audiences as Johnson’s bugle was heard to “distinctly cry, ‘Fire!’ ‘Fire!'” Johnson became associated with such dramatic effects, and imitations by his contemporaries were said to be far less effective. Program music became popular during this period, particularly works that depicted battle. Johnson arranged Frantisek Kotzwara‘s The Battle of Prague, impressing the audience with realistic effects. Johnson’s New Railroad Gallop began with the sound of steam, continued with the sound of passengers entering the cars, then concluded with the sound of the train reaching full speed. (Southern 112)

The Negro Philharmonic Society

Walter F. Craig’s orchestra

Sojourner Truth

Harriet Tubman

Frederick Douglas

Thomas Bethune – Blind autistic slave, the first African-American to play in the White House.









Blind Boone


Arthur La Brew’s (1977) Black musicians of the colonial period, 1700-1800