The Colored American Opera Company was born at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church — the first all-black church in the nation’s capitol — where an Italian priest invited a white Spanish American veteran of the U.S. Marine Band, and teacher of march legend John Philip Sousa, to teach a French style of opéra bouffe to an African American choir. In doing so, in 1873, just a decade after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, together, they created the first American opera company — black or white — in the nation. Listen as Shelley Brown, producer and former artistic director of the Strathmore theater in Bethesda, Maryland, and Patrick Warfield, a professor of musicology at the University of Maryland and author of Making the March King: John Philip Sousa's Washington Years,1854-1893 discuss this hidden American story.
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