Roland Hayes was a well-known and brilliant tenor who became the first African-American man to earn international fame as a concert vocalist. He was born to former slaves in Curryville, Georgia in 1887. He later attended Fisk University and briefly toured with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. During his early career days, many managers refused to work with him because of the color of his skin, but Hayes did not give up. He continued to invest in his career. He raised money and arranged to finance his own performances, which included Negro spirituals, lieder and arias by Mozart, Shubert and Tchaikovsky.
In 1942, Hayes along with his wife Helen and their daughter sat in a white’s only section in a shoe store and were thrown out of the store. He Hayes defended his family, he was thrown down beaten and his wife arrested. And the governor of the state was just fine with the actions. About a week later, in response to the incident, Governor Eugene Talmadge warned blacks who didn’t agree with segregation “to stay out of Georgia.” Talmadge promised, “We are going to keep the Jim Crow laws and protect them.” Although Hayes claimed that he was not bitter, he and his family left Georgia not long afterward and eventually sold their 600-acre farm in 1948. The incident was the inspiration to Langston Hughes poem, “Roland Hayes Beaten”.
In 1962, Hayes gave a concert at Carnegie Hall to celebrate his 75th birthday. He raised funds for the American Missionary Association College Centennials Fund. He spent his later years encouraging young musicians by serving as a mentor, giving freely of his talent, time, and financial resources to help them. He also taught at Boston University and received many honorary doctoral degrees and awards including the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Hayes gave his final concert in 1973 at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He died on January 1, 1977, in Boston and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Dorchester, Massachusetts. In 1991 the Georgia Music Hall of Fame inducted Hayes posthumously. In 1995 the Georgia Department of Natural Resources erected an official historic marker in Hayes’s honor in Calhoun. In 2000 the Roland Hayes Museum opened in the Harris Arts Center in Calhoun, where concerts are held annually in his honor.
Read more about Roland Hayes at:
Owens, Joanne M. “Roland Hayes (1887-1977).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 14 November 2013. Web. 24 November 2015.