Posted on 11/17/2013

Photo taken on November  1, 1910

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Arabella Fields
African American Woman
European Star
Recorded for a German label
Featured in 2 films in 1907
Called the 'South American' Caruso

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Photo replaced on November 17, 2013
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The Black Nightingale

The Black Nightingale
She was as huge as Josephine Baker was in France. Miss Fields gained her fame throughout Europe, learned their language, and became one of the first women to make a record. She also starred in two silent European films.

Arabella Fields came to be known in Europe as "The Black Nightingale." A contralto, she was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 31, 1879. She initially came to Europe as one half of a brother and sister singing act (James and Bella Fields) in 1889. From the 1890's to the 1920's she toured as a single act throughout Europe and became one of the most prolific African American entertainers outside the States.

Fields was one of several women to make records in the 1900s. Her first recording was for the Anker label in Berlin in 1907; reissued many times, her twenty year old original records were listed in a 1928 catalogue. In this respect, the only artist comparable to Fields is Enrico Caruso, whose acoustic pre-1914 recordings were available well into the 1920s era of electric recording.

To attract attention of her German audiences Fields often dressed in German style attire. She was also featured in many adverts in Europe (the photo is from an advert where she is dressed as an 'Alpine Cowgirl,' in 1910). In 1907 she was featured in two silent European films.

In the first two decades of the 20th century she toured widely singing German lieder and Swiss yodels as well as English language songs. During the 20s and 30s she appeared in various black musicals that toured Europe. Among them, Sam Woodings 'Chocolate Kiddies' and Louis Douglas's 'Black Follies Girls and Negro Revue.'

According to newspapers of that time she was in Amsterdam in 1915, 1916, and 1917. And made tours in the Netherlands in 1926, 1928, and 1931. It appears she was in at least one American film, Love in Morocco (1933) in which she portrayed a slave named Mabrouka.

The social climate encouraged many African American entertainers performing in Europe to remain there permanently. Miss Fields lived the rest of her life in Germany.

Bio: 'Cross the Water Blues: African American Music in Europe' by Neil A Wynn