It’s time to get to know legendary performer and Broadway pioneer Jules Bledsoe in this week’s Know Your History!
Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe was born to Henry L. and Jessie Cobb Bledsoe in Waco, Texas in 1898. During his youth, he attended Central Texas Academy from 1905 to 1914. After graduating as the class valedictorian, Bledsoe studied at Bishop College where he earned his B.A. in 1918. He then attended Virginia Union College from 1918 to 1919, where he was a member of the ROTC, and finally Columbia University, where he studied medicine from 1920 to 1924. Throughout his time in school, he studied music under Claude Warford, Luigi Parisotti, and Lazar Samoiloff.
Bledsoe made his professional singing debut in New York’s Aeolian Hall on April 20, 1924 with the sponsorship of impresario Sol Hurok. Over the course of his career, he traveled throughout the United States and Europe performing, acting, and writing.
Bledsoe performed in many major operas and was in high demand due to his ability to sing in multiple languages as well as his impressive vocal range. In 1926, he appeared as Tizan in Frank Harling’s opera Deep River, and was the first to perform as “Joe” in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat in 1927. His role in Show Boat became his best-known role, and he popularized a song from the musical, “Ol’ Man River.”
Bledsoe died in Hollywood, California, on July 14, 1943. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Waco, Texas. His papers, including sheet music, photographs and correspondence, are housed in The Texas Collection at Baylor University. The Bledsoe-Miller Community Center, a recreation facility in Waco, is jointly named for Bledsoe and Doris Miller.