A Brazilian Soprano in Jazz-Age Paris
Xangô (the god of thunder) and Paso Ñañigo’, composed by the Cuban Moises Simons, were two of the numbers performed by Elsie Houston in the clubs of Paris in the 1920s. Also able to sing soprano in Portuguese, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian, Elsie's performances in Afro-Brazilian dialects chimed with the fashion for all things African. Adjoa Osei's essay traces Elsie's connections with Surrealist artists and writers, (there are photos of her taken by Man Ray), and looks at how she used her mixed race heritage to navigate her way through society and speak out for African-inspired arts.
Adjoa Osei is a researcher based at Trinity College, Cambridge. She was selected as a 2021 New Generation Thinker on the scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to turn research into radio. You can hear her discussing the career of another singer Rita Montaner in this episode of Free Thinking https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0010q8b and taking part in this Free Thinking discussion From Blackface to Beyoncé https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000tnlt
Producer: Ruth Watts