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Nellie Brown Mitchell

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Nellie Brown Mitchell, a Dover native, was also a prominent African American opera singer during the 1850s and 1860s.
Her stage career lasted ten years, during which she formed her own company, the Nellie Brown Mitchell Concert Company.

"Nellie Brown Mitchell was born in Dover, New Hampshire in 1845. While in Dover she studied with Caroline Bracket, who encouraged her to pursue a professional vocal career. Her career as a singer began at the Free-Will Baptist Church, an Anglo-American Church, in 1865.  Brown was the soprano soloist. Service to the church would prove to be a distinct part of her musical career. In 1872, she left Free-Will Baptist to serve as soloist to Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She remained there until 1876, returned to Dover, and then served as musical director from 1879 to 1886 at the Bloomfield Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts.  While in Massachusetts, around 1874, Brown studied voice with Mrs. J. Rametti and Professor O’Neill. In Boston she studied at the New England Conservatory and the School of Vocal Arts. She received her diploma in 1879. In 1874 she gave a series of successful recitals in Boston and made her New York debut at Steinway Hall. In 1882 she debuted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From 1882 to 1885 Brown was “prima-donna soprano” with James Bergen’s star Concerts. Flora Batson replaced her when Mitchell had prior concert obligations in the South and could not attend a concert in Providence, Rhode Island. She resigned her church position in 1886 and devoted her time to her concert career and her newly formed Nellie Brown Mitchell Concert Company. Her husband, Lieutenant Charles L. Mitchell, was part of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Negro Regiment. Soprano Ednah B. Brown, her sister, was a member of her concert company.

During the 1880s and into the 1890s Brown reached the peak of her concert career. Her reputation and fame won her great admiration from colleagues and critics. She was considered by many to be the greatest African American singer and Madame Marie Selika’s only rival. She concertized often throughout the East Coast and the Middle West. For many summers she taught at the Hedding Chautauqua Summer School in East Epping, New Hampshire. In the 1890s she retired from the concert stage and devoted her time to private teaching, advertising the “Guilmette Method” of vocal technique. She died in Boston in January of 1924.

From African American Concert Singers Before 1950 by Darryl Glenn Nettles, c. 2003.

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