Roland Hayes: The Legacy of an American Tenor

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Can one blame Hayes for not being very outspoken on American community issues? His public was most of the time preponderantly white and probably prejudiced. The authors even suggest and they are probably correct that the interest in Hayes flagged after many in the public had seen this black curiosity and afterwards could do well without him. There is one thing Robeson and Hayes had in common: a relation or relations with Robeson with white women.

Roland Hayes: The Legacy of an American Tenor

They both knew they had to hide them as white and black would damn them. On concert tours in Europe the tenor had an eight year long affair with an Austrian countess who already had four sons with her husband.

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Hayes fathered a daughter with the countess who believed that a racially mixed child was the start of a project that would lead to superior human beings. Hayes finally tired of her, behaved violently and cut off all ties to look after his first cousin whom he married. The tenor had successfully succeeded in hiding the traces of a European family for the American one, though it is possible his wife had an inkling of his European past. It is a tribute to Mrs. Click here to see an interview with Africa Hayes. The tenor sang operatic arias from time to time in concert but from the start of his career he refused to think of himself as an operatic tenor.

Of course his chances in those days were slim in the US only with a black company and it was not sure Europe would welcome him. They tell us Hayes preferred singing piano or mezza voce a lot of the time so his voice sounded more voluminous the moment he let it out. Personally, I would have liked Brook and Simms to discuss more in detail Hayes voice and art. After all, I am sure far more vocal buffs will buy this book than black activists will do.

After all, I am sure far more vocal buffs will buy this book than black activists will do. In my opinion the Hayes voice is a strange but fascinating one. But the timbre is personal and immediately recognizable.


Hayes overcomes his vocal limitations by his outstanding phrasing, by caressing the vocal line, by his generous and wonderful pianissimi. His pronunciation too is an example. I can fully understand why Riemens who liked big guns as well was so generous in his praise for Hayes. After having heard the tenor one has to admit that a lot of fine singers who recorded negro spirituals with far more voice nevertheless sound bland and superficial compared to him.

Are there other singers Hayes can be compared to? However, no non-operatic tenor can earn the money and a lasting popularity by singing art songs alone and no art song singer ever had an international and highly profitable career in movies.

Granted, Lanza and Schmidt almost never sang in opera theatres but they had real operatic voices and moreover they recorded profligately. During his best vocal years in the twenties and thirties he relied upon the concert going public; maybe even then not overly big but definitely far bigger than it is nowadays.

He was proud of his accomplishments and difficult in his negotiations with record companies.

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Hayes even refused to perform on radio which too would have meant his name and legacy could have been more important. This is somewhat strange as Hayes was a clever and canny manipulator. After an ugly incident whereby some police brutes beat him, he still had the moral force to turn his misery and humiliation into a publicity triumph that even revived a lagging career.

Trailblazing Singer Roland Hayes Turned Struggles into Triumphs | WQXR Blog | WQXR

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