Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, in January 1868, Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones began formally studying music at the Providence Music Academy in Rhode Island at the age of 14. She is believed to have completed her training some years later at Bostons renowned New England Conservatory of Music.The Black Patti, Mme. M. Sissieretta Jones: The Greatest Singer of Her Race.Color poster. New York: MetropolitanPrinting Co., 1899. Performance ArtsPosters. Library of Congress –Prints & Photographs Division.LCUSZc4-5164.With her New York opera debut at Steinway Hall in 1888, Jones’ talent was quickly recognized. She toured overseas and became known as the world’s “first Negro prima donna.” Her voice and striking presence led to comparisons with Italian soprano Adelina Patti — considered the premier diva of the day. Jones was nicknamed “Black Patti” — which she resented for obvious reasons — but as Miss Jones proved to all, a woman of color was capable of giving world class performances.
Though racism kept her from performing on America’s most renowned stage, New Yorks Metropolitan Opera, she did perform at the White House, and gave a command performance before Englands Royal Family. In June 1892, she became the first African American to take the stage at Carnegie Hall, and by 1895 she was the highest paid black entertainer in the world. By showing the world that a black woman could perform classical opera, Jones laid the ground work for future entertainers, including Lillian Evanti.