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-opera artists. But, although greatly successful during an era of intensified ridicule and abuses against African Americans, they abandoned their dreams of opera stardom to use their mainstream popularity to confront the ridicule of their people by touring black-face minstrels;. In so doing they created the first American musicals!
Influenced in youth by Bay Area civil-rights activists, such as Mary Ellen Pleasant, The Hyers centered their musicals on the African-American experience from slavery to freedom, these musicals extolled the dignity and story of their people and created the only opportunity for many black performers in theater. They also presented the first racially mixed casting in American Music Theater and influenced those like Sissieretta Jones (Black Patti) and performers to come.
Susheel Bibbs' has produced a live concert entitled "Voices for Freedom" and 2 award-winning documentary films on The Hyers. The Opera Theater of St. Louis, Pittsburg Festival Opera, and PBS have used her films in their programming.
(see www.theHyersSistersSite.com and her booklet on Amazon.com)