Joseph Douglass

Joseph Henry Douglass (July 3, 1871 – December 7, 1935) was a groundbreaking African-American concert violinist, the son of Charles Remond Douglass and Mary Elizabeth Murphy, and grandson of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Joseph Douglass (left, standing, in morning dress) with grandfather Frederick Douglass (right, sitting in frock coat) (ca 1890s).

Early life and influenceEdit

During the time following the Civil War, many African-American musicians began to break into the art music genre. Joseph Douglass, a concert violinist, was one of the first African-American performers to be nationally and internationally renowned. His influence came at an early age from his father and grandfather, famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who were both amateur violin players. He studied violin at Boston Conservatory.[1]

First big breakEdit

Douglass received his first big break as a concert violinist at the age of 22 when he performed at the World's Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair. On August 25, 1893, performers joined together to celebrate Colored American Day (which Frederick Douglass helped plan).[2] Included in the celebrations were readings of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poetry, performances by Sidney Woodward and Deseria Plato. Joseph Douglass also performed at Colored American Day, garnering him a large audience for his talents.

Later lifeEdit

Broadside advertising a concert by Joseph H. Douglass, ca. 1895. MS Thr 1590, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

After his performance at the World's Columbian Exposition, he was very well known. Douglass is credited as the first Black violinist to make transcontinental tours. In the 1890s, he was lauded by the black press as "the most talented violinist of the race".[3] Douglass toured extensively for three decades, performing in every Black educational institution and America and a significant number of churches as well.[3] Douglass was also the first violinist – of any race – to make recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company. He made recordings with them in 1914, but they were never released. On top of his performance career, Douglass was an educator and conductor, too. He had tenured positions at Howard University and the Colored Music Settlement School in New York throughout his life. He had many students including a young Clarence Cameron White.

Personal lifeEdit

Douglass married Fannie Howard Douglass. Fannie was a musician as well, often accompanying Joseph's performances on the piano. He and Fannie had two children: Blanche and Frederick III.[4]


  1. ^ "Joseph H. Douglass". Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, National Park Service. Retrieved 2021-05-02.
  2. ^ Reed, Christopher Robert. "The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893: Black Presence at the White City". Retrieved 2010-02-15.
  3. ^ a b Southern, Eileen (1997) [1971]. The Music of Black Americans: A history (3 ed.). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03843-2.
  4. ^ "Frederick Douglass Family Foundation". Retrieved 2010-02-15.

External linksEdit