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Madam Flora Batson Bergen

Madam Flora Batson Bergen (April 16, 1864 – December 1, 1906)

Queen of Song/Philanthropist

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Madam Flora Batson Bergen.

bergenAs one of the most internationally renowned operatic sopranos of the late 19th century, Flora Batson Bergen was often described as “the greatest colored singer in the world”.  She was also called the “double-voiced queen of song” in acknowledgement of her soprano-baritone range.  

The daughter of a Civil War widow, Mrs. Bergen was born in Washington, DC.  She and her mother relocated to Providence, RI in 1867, where she joined various local choirs.  By 1878, she was singing for Storer College in Harpers Ferry, WV.  Though Mrs. Bergen was offered a full music scholarship at Storer, she decided to continue singing professionally.  Temperance reformer Thomas N. Doutney was her manager, so she participated in many temperance revivals.

In 1885, during a revival at the Masonic Temple in New York City, her rendition of “Six Feet of Earth Make Us All One Size” caught the ear of John G. Bergen, the white manager of the black Bergen Star Concert Company.  Her critically acclaimed performance of the song for ninety consecutive nights led him to invite her to join his group, and within two years, she was an international star.  At the end of 1887, they married in a controversial but beneficial union, as both of their careers flourished.  After John Bergen’s death in 1896, she toured with black basso Gerard Millar, whom she later married.  Her international travels included concerts where she sang before dignitaries such as Pope Leo XIII, Queen Victoria of England, and Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii.

Though opera selections were in her repertoire, her primary genre was the ballad, and Mrs. Bergen often received standing ovations and jewelry in recognition of her title, “The Queen of Song”.  As vaudeville became more popular and her solo engagements decreased, for the remainder of her life, Mrs. Bergen performed primarily for religious organizations and charities.

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Compiled by Rhonda K. Craven

 

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