The Texas Collection is proud to present our newest exhibit, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: The Musical Heritage of Jules Bledsoe and New Hope Baptist Church.” In honor of African American History Month, this exhibit traces the interweaving stories of Jules Bledsoe and New Hope Baptist Church, Waco, Texas.
Jules Bledsoe, one of the first major African-American opera stars in the United States, was born in Waco in approximately 1899 and sang his first concert at New Hope Baptist Church at age five. He sang for audiences around the world, wrote music, and performed on stage, radio, and television. His most famous piece was “Ol’ Man River” from the musical “Show Boat.” After a career of just twenty-two years, Bledsoe died in Hollywood in 1943.
New Hope Baptist Church, a historically African-American church in Waco, has been in operation since 1866. Stephen Cobb, grandfather of Jules Bledsoe, served as the first pastor of the church. Through the years the church has been known for having a vibrant musical tradition, with many choirs, an orchestra, and various musical performances.
“This exhibit represents some of Waco’s best musical traditions,” co-curator Paul Fisher explains. “Bledsoe’s international fame as an opera star was fantastic for the African-American community and Waco, as was New Hope’s national reputation as a musically gifted, vibrant church.” Visitors to this exhibit can see Bledsoe’s music, photographs of New Hope Baptist Church, and information about both Bledsoe and New Hope.
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: The Musical Heritage of Jules Bledsoe and New Hope Baptist Church” was curated by Texas Collection staff Paul Fisher, Geoff Hunt, and Amie Oliver, and graduate students Amanda Dietz, Adina Johnson, and Mary Ellen Stanley. Archival manuscripts donated by New Hope Baptist Church and ancestors of Jules Bledsoe made the exhibit possible, and these materials are open for research. New Hope Baptist Church continues to worship every Sunday at their church on 915 North 6th Street, Waco, Texas. You can see the exhibit through May at The Texas Collection in Carroll Library.