Amanda Aldridge

There is not much recorded music of Amanda Aldridge (1866-1956), but her story and that of her family is perhaps even more interesting.  She was born the third child of African American Shakespearian actor Ira Frederick Aldridge and his Swedish second wife, Amanda Brandt. Her father was quite well known having a career as a Shakespearean actor on the world stages of England, Europe, and the United States, as well as one of the only African American actors to be honored at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.  Although he died when Amanda was only a year old, his children and their mother strove to honor his legacy by continuing as entertainers and promoting African American heritage. The eldest son Frederick, who also died young, was a pianist and composer.  Amanda’s older sister Luranah was for a time a successful opera singer, living in Paris and performing on the continent in principal opera houses such as the Royal Opera House and the Bayreuth Festival. Luranah also was friends with Richard Wagner’s daughter Eva. 

Amanda studied voice with Jenny Lind and harmony and counterpoint with Frederick Bridge at the Royal College of Music in London. Upon graduation, she embarked on a fairly successful singing career of her own.  She started creating and composing art songs that often contained poetry by African American poets, seeking to compose art songs that gave voice to African Americans.  She understood that her father had been exposed to an unbalanced playing field in his career, as well as racial bias. Her most famous work was Three African Dances for piano, which was inspired by West African Drumming.  All of her compositions were under a pen name “Montague Ring,” which by many accounts was simply a desire to stand on her own as a composer and not gain merit with her father’s name. Her music became extremely popular in Europe in the early 20th century. Written predominantly in a romantic parlor song style fashionable in that day, Montague Ring's songs for voice and piano numbered almost thirty, as well as seven suites for piano that were also arranged for orchestra and military band. 

At home, her life was not as easy.  Her brother had committed suicide while “in a high fever”, and her sister became crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and spent the remainder of her life in a wheelchair being cared for by Amanda. Backed by her mentor Jenny Lind, she began to spend more time teaching; attracting many of London’s most talented students. The success of Amanda’s teaching was documented in the London Times: “The pupils of Miss Aldridge all, or nearly all, have in common one invaluable attribute of a singer—that is style.” Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, and Marian Anderson were among her most well-known students, inspiring her to dedicate some of her songs to them. 

When she was eighty-seven Amanda apparently still took a forty minute bus ride to teach singing and diction for several hours. In 1954, at the age of eighty-eight, she made her first television appearance in a British program entitled "Music For You."  Hailed as “one of the oldest artists ever to appear on Television,” Amanda was described in the publicity as “still as lively as a cricket.” She died two years later, just one day short of her 90th birthday. At the time of her death, Amanda was considered to be the last surviving pupil of the late Jenny Lind. #blackcomposers