The Hyers Sisters
Nearly forgotten, the Hyers Sisters, Anna and Emma, were African American opera singers in the 19th-century who toured the US from the 1871 to 1894. The sisters, who lived in Sacramento and were educated in San Francisco, became the first African-American women to succeed nationwide as mainstream, touring concert artists. But, during an era of intensified ridicule and abuses against African Americans, they left promising opera careers to use their mainstream popularity to confront the ridicule of African Americans by touring black-face minstrels; in so doing they created the first civil-rights musicals. Centered on the African-American story from slavery to freedom, these musicals extolled the dignity and story of their people and created the only opportunity for black leading characters and the first racially mixed casting in American music theater.
Susheel Bibbs has revealed new research about the Hyers Sisters. Her work, which will lead to a new PBS film documentary, has already produced a live concert entitled "Voices of Freedom." Bibb's new film research shows that the Hyers were influenced by activists such as Mary Ellen Pleasant, Mother of Civil Rights in California.