Florence Cole-Talbert (1890-1961)

Florence Cole-Talbert
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Florence Cole-Talbert was an African American soprano singer.  Cole-Talbert was born in Detroit, Michigan on June 17, 1890 as one of two daughters to parents Thomas A. Cole and Sadie (Chandler) Cole.  She was born into a family of musicians and began to learn and practice music at a young age.  When she was ten years old the Cole family moved to Los Angeles, California.  She was influenced to become a singer after attending a performance of Aïda at the age of fifteen.

Cole-Talbert attended Los Angeles High School where she participated in music programs, and after high school she attended the College of Music at the University of Southern California to specialize in oratorio.  During her senior year Cole-Talbert left college to tour with Hann’s Jubilee Singers run by W.A. Hann, and about the same time she married musician Wendell “Wen” P. Talbert, a marriage that was short-lived.  In 1915 the Talberts separated but for professional purposes Florence kept his name.

By 1916 Cole-Talbert began to make solo appearances after she graduated with honors from Chicago Musical College.  Over the following months she made concert appearances in Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles.  In April 1918 she made her New York recital debut as a concert soprano at Aeolian Hall.  In 1919 George W. Broome approached Cole-Talbert to record for his label that was created to help to broadcast the work of black concert artists.  She recorded at least three titles with the Broome Special Phonograph label.

Cole-Talbert recorded for the Paramount label in late 1920 and early 1921.  She also in the latter year recorded for the Black Swan label and was featured on its special “Red Label” series.  In 1924 she recorded again for Paramount.  During the years 1925 to 1927 she studied voice in Europe and in March 1927 she sang the title role in Verdi’s Aïda at the Teatro Communale, Cosenza, Italy.

In the fall of 1927 Cole-Talbert returned to the United States and married Dr. Benjamin F. McCleave.  After three more seasons of recitals, in 1930 Cole-Talbert accepted a teaching position at Bishop College, Texas where she was the first black director of music.  She taught at many southern colleges, including Tuskegee Institute, Alabama State College, and Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  She remained an active member in the National Association of Negro Musicians and the Memphis Music Association.

On April 3, 1961, at the age of seventy, Florence Cole-Talbert died in Memphis, Tennessee.  Although Florence Cole-Talbert did not achieve the fame of later concert artists such as Marian Anderson, her success in the second and third decades of the 20th Century helped pave the way for the next generation of black concert artists.