Posted on 11/25/2013

Photo taken on October  1, 1912

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Daisy Tapley
African American Woman

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Photo replaced on July  3, 2014
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Daisy Tapley

Daisy Tapley
She is believed to be the first African American woman to record commercially in the United States.

Born Daisy Robinson in Big Rapids, Michigan, circa 1882, the daughter of Harvey and Martha Robinson. Shortly thereafter her family moved to Grand Rapids, and in 1890, to Chicago. Daisy showed great musical promise as a child .. studying with an organist and pianist. At age twelve she became the organist at Quinn Chapel. At age seventeen she entered show business, joining the three Winslow Sisters to form an act called "The Colored Nightingales," which played at the Alhambra Theatre in Chicago in 1899. This was followed during 1900 and 1901 by various engagements in Chicago, with the Slayton Jubilee Singers and others.

Shortly thereafter she met a young actor named Green Henry Tapley, a member of the Williams and Walker theatrical troupe. They were married around 1903, and Daisy joined the company, traveling with it to London where she met the great composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and others. Back in the United States she appeared with Williams and Walker in vaudeville in December 1905, at the same Alhambra Theatre where she debuted as a teenager.

Also in the Williams and Walker troupe was a singer and actress named Minnie Brown, who became Daisy's closest friend and companion, remaining with her for the rest of her life.

1910 was a turning point for Daisy ... in that year the Williams and Walker company broke up, and she apparently separated from her husband (although she continued to carry his name). With her friend Minnie Brown she settled in New York City, where she became a teacher of piano, organ, and voice. Dedicating herself to the promotion of black artists, she quickly became friends with many of the leading black concert musicians of the day.

It was no doubt through this widening circle of friends that she came into contact with Carroll Clark, a young baritone who was attempting to build his own career as a concert singer. Clark had been recording since 1908, and in December 1910 he and Tapley were invited to the Columbia studios in New York to record the hymn "I Surrender All."

This single duet by Tapley and Clark was released in March 1911, few copies are found today, and the masters were not released to other labels. It would be Tapley's only recording.

Following this, Daisy Tapley returned to her work of teaching, performing, and organizing recitals. In early 1918 an article in the New York Age reported that she had angrily canceled a recital at the YMCA when she learned that the organization would not allow a mixed race audience. Instead, with Minnie Brown, she initiated her own series of "educational recitals" approximately once a month during the winter featuring the best black concert talent of the day. The series continued for the next three years, "at a financial loss because of her desire to increase the artistic appreciation of the colored race." They featured such well known names as Florence Cole-Talbert, Roland Hayes, Clarence Cameron White, Harry T Burleigh, and lecturer W.E.B. Du Bois.

A 1920 item noted Tapley was then treasurer of the New York chapter of the National Association of Negro Musicians (Minne Brown was vice-president). More projects followed in the early 1920s, including directing the chorus productions at the 71st Regiment Armory and at Carnegie Hall. The latter engagement led to her founding the Negro Singing Society of New York.

Daisy Tapley's busy life came to a sudden halt when she was stricken with ovarian cancer in mid-1934. Eight months later, on February 5, 1935, at age forty-two, she passed away at her apartment on West 136th Street. Minnie Brown was by her side. Her funeral drew a large crowd of musicians of both races.

Had it not been for her single venture into the recording studio in 1910, Daisy Tapley's voice would have been stilled forever. As it is, we have that piece of audio to remind us of a woman who contributed much to the advancement of black concert music.

Image/Bio: Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890 - 1919, by Tim Brooks

A short sample of her 1910 recording with Carroll Clark, "I Surrender All"
3 years ago.
2 years ago.
Christopher Brooks
Christopher Brooks
Kicha, you have some dates for Daisy Tapley which are off. She received the ovarian cancer diagnosis in mid-1924 and died February 5, 1925.
7 weeks ago.
~Kicha~ has replied to Christopher Brooks
The bio above came from the author Tim Brooks "Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890 - 1919. Sadly, I've seen lots of misinformation not only with Mrs. Tapley but other long ago entertainers. Digital newspapers from that time period are slightly more accurate. Where did you get your info?
6 weeks ago.
Christopher Brooks
Christopher Brooks
I have been researching several news sources. I looked at the ones Tim Brooks cited, and he suggested some papers in Michigan and Chicago.
4 weeks ago.