Flora Batson: Double Voiced Queen of Song

This post is one of a series honoring Black History Month.

African American concert singer Flora Batson (1864–1906) was called the “Double Voiced Queen of Song” not because she performed Buddhist monk throat singing (she didn’t) but because her voice stretched across two ranges: soprano and baritone. Batson began singing with church choirs in her native Washington, D.C. When she was 21 she was hired by producer and promoter John Bergen to perform with the Bergen Star Company, an international touring company. Though he was white, the pair were married two years later.

Over the next decade promoted Batson’s career and presented her all over the world. He began by encouraging comparison and revival with Sissieretta Jones, who billed herself as “the Black Patti”. Bergen billed Batson as “the real Patti”, which was nonsense because of course Adelina Patti was the real Patti. (“The Colored Jenny Lind” was another handle used to describe Batson in her day). At any rate, Jones and Batson were presented together onstage in Providence (Jones’ hometown) in 1885. The pair were reunited on the stage of Carnegie Hall in 1896 with a third singer, Marie Selika Williams. Between the then-controversial interracial marriage and the singing competitions, Batson’s career is beginning to sound a lot like the 19th century equivalent of reality television!

After Bergen died, an African American singer named Gerard Millar became Batson’s manager and sang with her in concerts. In addition to concerts in the U.S. they toured Australia with Orpheus McAdoo’s Georgia Minstrels and Genuine Alabama Cake Walkers at the turn of the century.