During this week of Dr. King's birthday, it seems appropriate to remember African-American tenor Roland Hayes. The child of former slaves, Hayes was born in Georgia in 1887, and he died in Boston in 1977. You can read about his life here.
Hayes' gorgeously mellow tone, soulful warmth, and bone-deep dignity make him one of the most immediately recognizable singers.
Update: Sound files no longer available. Please visit vilaine fille early and often! His 1955 rendition of the spiritual "I'm so glad trouble don't last alway" is one of the most beautiful and eloquent recordings I know. This music and music-making can soothe the most bitter grief and strengthen the most battered heart. Try to imagine what this song must have meant to enslaved people! Consider, too, Hayes' observation: "You may search the entire collection of Aframerican religious folk songs… and you will not find one word of hate or malice anywhere expressed in them."
"Lit'l David," recorded in 1955 in Hayes' own graceful arrangement, tells of the future psalmist's humility and puzzlement: "How can I play, when I'm in a strange land?"
A 1947 recording of "Plenty good room" represents Hayes in especially fresh voice and joyous spirits.
During Hayes' eightieth birthday celebrations at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, he remarked: "There have been many hurdles and many dark places to which I had to go, but there has never been a day that the Lord hasn't made."