Amanda Aldridge is one of the most influential female composers in British history. Her life had many setbacks, but she pushed forward and found success for herself as an operatic singer, teacher, and composer.
Amanda Aldridge was born in 1866 in London, England. Her father, Ira Frederick Aldridge, was a surgeon and her mother, Amanda Powell, was a Quadroon, or mixed-race woman of African and European descent. As a child growing up in London, Amanda experienced significant racial discrimination. She was not allowed to play with white children and was constantly subjected to derogatory comments about her appearance.
Despite the challenges she faced, Amanda Aldridge persevered. She studied music at the Royal Academy of Music and became an accomplished singer. In 1895, she made her professional debut as an opera singer in Italy.
Amanda’s success as an opera singer led to opportunities to teach music and composition. She taught some of Britain’s most well-known musicians, including future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Amanda also continued to compose her music. In 1846, she became the Britain’s First Black Composer to have an opera staged in London.
Amanda Aldridge Early Life
Amanda Aldridge was born in London on March 10, 1866, to parents who were both freeborn enslaved Black people. Her father, Ira Frederick Aldridge, escaped slavery in Virginia and went to England, where he met and married Amanda’s mother, Amanda Powell. The couple had six children together, of which Amanda was the youngest.
As a child, Amanda showed great promise as a musician. She began playing the violin at age four and became a prodigy. When she was seven years old, she performed for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. After that impressive feat, she began touring Europe with her family, giving performances in France, Italy, Germany, and Russia.
In 1877, the family returned to England and settled in London. Amanda continued her musical studies and also began teaching music to other children. In 1886, she made history by becoming the first black woman to admitted to the Royal Academy of Music.
In 1900, the couple moved to America, where Amanda continued to teach music, including working as head of music at Paterson High School in New Jersey and serving as musical director at Talladega College in Alabama. During this period, Amanda began composing her own music and became involved with anti-lynching efforts on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She organized concerts featuring black singers to raise money for bail and legal funds for blacks who were prisoners denounced by mobs as criminals or accused criminals whom no attorney would defend. She wrote songs based on spirituals that recognized African Americans and their ancestors’ struggle against slavery and racism, creating what came to called Negro Spirituals or Negro Folk Songs. This genre already existed but should have been recognized by critics or publishers.  Wrote one critic
Amanda Aldridge Musical Career
Amanda Aldridge was a British composer and singer active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was born in London to a family of African descent, and she began her musical training early.
Aldridge made her professional debut as a singer in 1877 and soon began composing her own music. She wrote songs, operas, and other works for both voice and orchestra. Her most successful work was the opera “Gloria,“ which premiered in London in 1901.
Both classical and popular music styles influenced Aldridge’s compositions. She was also an advocate for racial equality in the musical world. In 1911, she founded the Negro Opera Company, which staged productions of works by black composers.
Aldridge continued to compose and perform until she died in 1937. Her legacy continues to inspire musicians of all backgrounds today.
The success of British Black Composers in Early 20th Century England
Many British black composers enjoyed success in early 20th century England. These included Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Edgar Battle, Will Marion Cook, and Nathaniel Dett. All four composers were born in the late 19th century and came to prominence in the early decades of the 20th century.
Coleridge-Taylor was born in Croydon, England, in 1875 to an English mother and a Sierra Leonean father. He studied violin and composition at the Royal College of Music from 1894 to 1899. His best-known work is his cantata, The Death of Nelson, which was first performed in 1902. His other works include several symphonies, choral pieces, and operas.
Battle was born in Jamaica in 1874 and moved to England with his family at seven. He studied violin at the Guildhall School of Music before joining the orchestra of the London Pavilion Theatre as the first violinist. In 1904, he founded the Royal Negro Orchestra, which gave performances of classical music by black composers and popular tunes of the day. Battle also composed several works for piano, voice, and orchestra.
Cook was born in Washington, D.C., in 1869 and moved to England with his family when he was ten. He studied violin at the Trinity College of Music before starting a career as a composer and conductor.
Later Life and Death
Aldridge continued to work as a composer and musician throughout her life. She wrote music for the stage, including an opera, and composed songs and piano pieces. She died in London in 1957 at the age of 84.
Aldridge’s work was forgotten after her death but has since rediscovered and is now being performed and recorded by new generations of musicians.
In later life, Amanda continued to live in London and actively composing music. She wrote several pieces for the stage, including an opera entitled “The Scarlet Letter.“ She also wrote a few film scores, including one for the 1947 “Black Narcissus.“
Amanda passed away in London in 1968 at the age of 86. She survived her husband Oscar, who died two years later.
Amanda Aldridge was a true pioneer in music composition, and her work is still celebrated today. She was a talented musician who overcame immense odds to achieve success in a field that was before closed off to her. Her story inspires all aspiring musicians, regardless of their background or skin color. We hope you have enjoyed learning about Amanda Aldridge and her contributions to British music history.