Flora Batson was a celebrated popular music and opera vocalist born on this day with a range so extreme, she was dubbed the “Double-Voice Queen of Song” and drew comparison with Swedish Opera star Jenny Lind.
Batson was born April 16, 1864 in Washington, D.C. but was raised primarily in Providence, Rhode Island. She started singing in local choirs before heading to Storer College in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia to sing. After declining an offer to study music at the school, Batson embarked on a career as a concert soloist, showing off her vast soprano-baritone range.
She was discovered by John G. Bergen, the manager of the all-Black Bergen Star Concert Company. The two connected, her career exploded and they later married. The interracial marriage was a hot subject of tabloids of the time, but the controversy benefited them both. After Bergen died, Batson married Black singer Gerard Millar and toured the world, singing for Queen Victoria of England, and Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii among other notable dignitaries.
Despite her vast talent, demand for Batson’s style of singing began to wane as vaudeville and minstrel shows became the order of the day during the turn of the 20th century. Batson used her vocal talents to bolster religious movements and charitable organizations, choosing to sing for philanthropy over profit.
She passed suddenly in 1906 at the age of 42.