Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mabel Ritchardson: The Singer Committed to her Craft


Mabel Ritchardson in front of her house on Pine Street in San Francisco's Western Addition neighborhood, ca. 1930s


A couple of years ago my mother handed me an old photo album. "This was your Great Grandmother's," she said, "I thought you might be interested in it." Before that, I didn't know much about Great Grandma Mabel except her name and where she had lived. I opened the photo album to find that Mabel had been a very dedicated vocalist, and she had meticulously documented her singing career: every program, every telegram, every announcement and review she received was in this album. The story it tells has fascinated me to no end.

A headline from a recital review published in a San Francisco newspaper
 Mabel was a contralto singer who performed regularly around San Francisco. Her repertoire was noted for being unique, as she performed a combination of classical pieces and negro spirituals. The clipping from the article pictured above reads:
 Mrs. Ritchardson's repertoire consisted of selections from such great composers as Handel, Dvorak, Schumann, and Brahms which are very difficult with a number of new and unheard of spirituals that were greatly appreciated. 
  Mabel studied under vocal instructor Madame Maria Verda (and she saved a great many clippings and brochures that sang her teacher's praises) and participated in many of Verda's recitals. One clipping, dated 1935 reviews a performance given at the Fairmont Hotel in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco:
 Madame Maria Verda presented a group of artists and students at the fashionable Nob Hill hotel...Mme. Verda introduced Mrs. Ritchardson as a cultural leader of the race. 
  The audience was held spellbound while Mrs. Ritchardson sang "Come Let Us All This Day" by Bach. For an encore she sang "Victoria Mio Core" by Carissimi in Italian. Mrs. Ritchardson appeared later on the program in a group of Negro Spirituals which were also very enthusiastically received.
  In addition to being an active performer and student of her craft, Mabel was the mother of six children, my grandmother Franzy being the youngest. Sometimes as I read through her papers and look at all this woman was involved in, I ask myself, "How did she do it? When did she sleep!?" One clue about how she kept herself motivated: Mabel saved a lot of articles about women pursuing their life's dreams and passions. Stories of mothers graduating college, 80 year old opera singers, and articles about the importance of education for adults and singing being beneficial to one's health. Mabel gathered inspiration from many different sources.

Mabel with her husband Franzy at the beach

 Mabel was also very active in her church, 1st A.M.E. Zion at 1667 Geary Street in San Francisco. She directed the choir and participated in many organizations and events within the church. She also served as the California State Supervisor for the National Association of Colored Girls.

A page out of Mabel's very full scrapbook





 As a working artist myself, Mabel's story has provided me with endless inspiration. Not only was she talented and dedicated to her craft, she also took great care in documenting her life's work. Mabel was her own archivist, and it shows how much her art meant to her. Mabel is a beautiful example of what women artists of African descent must do to preserve a legacy that is too often overlooked and buried with time.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

From Mississippi to San Jose: Our Family's start in California

Four generations of maternal ancestors. Photo is labeled on back: "Aunt Myrle- child, Grandmother- Mabel Pinkney , Great Grandmother- Sarah Venable Berry, Great Great Grandmother Grundy "
  This photo has hung in my family's home for as long as I can remember.  It's an important piece of our family history, as Grandma Grundy (that's what we call her in my family, I'll have to do more research to find out her first name) was our enslaved ancestor who migrated to California, where our family has been ever since. Grandma Grundy was still a slave when she was brought to San Jose, California from Mississippi with the family who owned her. Upon learning that slavery was not legal in California (the story goes that she was out running errands in town, got to talking to people and learned there was no slavery in the state) she immediately left the family and started a new life in San Jose. She bought a home and raised a family there.

My great grandmother Mabel Ritchardson (at this time her married name was Pinkney, as she was married to Elias Pinkney) is the young woman standing on the left. Her maiden name was Davis, so that's another surname I need to look into. To Mabel's right is her mother, Sarah Venable Berry, and at their feet is Mabel's baby girl Myrle Pinkney.

This document is captioned on the back "Mama's Marriage License for both times." 
   This marriage license is for Sarah Venable Berry (standing to the right of Grandma Grundy in the photo) and this is where the name Davis comes in. Sarah was first married to H.J. Davis of Massachusetts in 1882 at age 18. So it looks like H.J. Davis is Mabel's father. Here's where it gets interesting: Sarah (or someone at the county office?) got a little creative with her age on the second marriage license. She remarried in 1886 and her age is recorded as 19 years old at this time.    

 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Ritchardson Family of San Francisco

Franzy and Mabel Ritchardson in front of their home at 2970 Pine Street, San Francisco, California June 1930

My maternal Great Grandparents were Franzy (b.1889 in Denison, TX) and Mabel Ritchardson, and they lived in the Western Addition of San Francisco, California. Franzy was the first African American Postmaster General in San Francisco, and Mabel was a contralto singer who performed around the city, singing everything from Bach and Brahms to negro spirituals. Franzy was an active member of the community, volunteering at Booker T. Washington Community Center, and both were active members of their church (First A.M.E. Zion Church on Geary Street).

Oral History Project
During his life, Franzy participated in an oral history project through the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society called Afro-Americans in San Francisco Prior to World War II . His account of his life is extensive and fascinating (he had a great memory!) Here's a link to the document:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EqkOe_X9kvwJVFCCzhmoqNUTpele7NITbdRIEgjBOtc/pub

Mabel and Franzy at the beach, ca. 1930s


The Pinkney Connection
"I came [to California] in 1917 and I married Mabel Pinkney in 1919...by the way, Pinkney is--the Halls and the Pinkneys and the Osmonds are quite a group in California history because they were Bakersfield people. They homesteaded land in the mountains around Bakersfield and they hod horses and cattle up there...later they abandoned it, just gave it up because there was no profit and nobody wanted to go up there and live, since it was in the mountains....They had a home in Bakersfield too, which was designated a landmark. They moved the house intact from its original site to its present site in Bakersfield." -Franzy Lea Ritchardson

The historical landmark home Franzy speaks of is the Pinkney House, part of the Kern County Museum, was the home of William and Amanda Pinkney (maiden name Boydston), the two married in 1898:  http://www.kcmuseum.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=gal_item_detail&item_id=48

The Pinkney Connection, Santa Cruz Edition
Franzy was my Great Grandmother's second husband,  her first was Elias Pinkney, who left South Carolina for California at age 18 with the A.M.E. church. In 1902 he married Mabel Davis, and they had five children. They lived in Kern County outside Bakersfield, then moved to San Jose in 1904, where Mabel's family was from. Their eldest son was Lorraine Davis Pinkney, b. December 2, 1903. He was named after his maternal grandfather. In 1909 they relocated to Santa Cruz, where Elias found work as a barber shop porter and Mabel took in laundry. In October 1909 Lorraine passed away after a bout with pneumonia, and the family returned to San Jose a year later. Lorraine Davis Pinkney is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Santa Cruz, CA.
    Many thanks to Phil Reader for this great research, here's a link to his full historical account: http://researchforum.santacruzmah.org/viewtopic.php?p=548&sid=e2bdd5d34fe37a3a6e9a09364272c54c

A fun sidenote: Family folklore has it that my Great Grandpa Franzy was considered quite a "catch" back in those days in San Francisco. Many were surprised (and quite a few ladies were angry) that such an eligible bachelor would choose to marry a widow with children. Going back through photos and reviews of her captivating performances (which will be the subject of another post) anyone could tell there was something very special about Mabel!

Franzy and Mabel had one child together, my grandmother, named Franzy Lea Ritchardson just like her dad. She was very active in the Bay Area's creative and social scene, and she will be the subject of another post.   


The Path of my Ancestors (Getting Started): South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, California

My name is Marissa King Arterberry. I'm a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, and this blog is intended as a place to organize and share the story of my family's heritage. That story is too powerful and beautiful to be relegated to a few dusty boxes and albums in my closet. It is also my hope that other members of these families searching will find this information useful and it can fill in the gaps of their own research, and hopefully you can fill in some for me! If you would like to share info., have research tips or resources (I'm learning as I go, so it's all helpful!) please feel free to contact me at: MarissaArterberry@gmail.com

  As an African American woman, this quest feels special and also very challenging. So much of our history was lost or improperly documented, or repressed. Reclaiming it is empowering. I can still recall my very first quest to know came as a little girl. I asked my mother where exactly we came from in Africa. She told me that because of slavery, it was hard to know. I have vivid memories of going to the world map that hung in our home, and studying the continent of Africa intently. I would recite the names of the countries to myself over and over again, and the one that felt the strongest to me--the one that resonated in my bones--would be the country I was from. Naturally, this changed week to week! All that is to say I feel like I've been on this journey since I was very little. It means so much to me.