Joseph Douglass was the grandson of famed Abolitionist, Frederick Douglass and also a groundbreaking violinist. He was the first nationally-recognized black concert violinist.
Douglass was born in the Anacostia area of Washington D.C. in 1869 to Charles and Mary Elizabeth Douglass. At a young age, he took up playing the violin. He received his formal musical training at the New England Conservatory for five years and later the Boston Conservatory.
At the age of 22, he performed at the Chicago World’s Fair, it was the beginning of his career that lasted for three decades. Douglass was the first black violinist to tour the world as a performer.
On August 25, 1893 he performed at Colored American Day (which Frederick Douglass helped plan). Included in the celebrations were readings of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poetry, performances by Sidney Woodward and Deseria Plato. His performance at the event gained him a large audience for his talents.
Douglass was also the first violinist of any race to record music for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1914. He also performed for several U.S. presidents, including William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. By 1910, he performed at Carnegie Hall. Aside from his work in music, Douglass was a conductor at Howard University in Washington DC.