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Anna Taylor Sweringen/Michal Scott: Marie Selika Williams – First African American to Perform at the White House (Contest)
Friday, April 26th, 2024

UPDATE: The winner is…Colleen C!

Madame Marie Selika Williams was born Marie Smith in 1849 in Natchez, Mississippi. The Natchez area of Mississippi had the largest number of free blacks in the state, but the hardships they faced were no different than those of their enslaved brothers and sisters. Not long after she was born, Marie’s family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where a wealthy patron enabled her to study music. She is also reported to have studied the Italian style of singing with Antonio Farini in Chicago. In the 1860s, she moved to San Francisco, studied with a Signora G. Bianchi, then made her debut in 1876 as a concert soprano. She married fellow concert artist Sampson Williams. They remained married until his death in 1911.

Together with her husband, Marie toured and performed in the US, Europe, and the West Indies. Newspaper accounts proclaimed her a “colored vocalist of rare ability.” She is said to have added “Selika” to her stage name from the heroine of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 1865 opera, L’Africaine.

Thanks to an introduction from Frederick Douglass, whom President Rutherford B. Hayes had appointed Marshall of the District of Columbia, Marie performed in the Green Room of the White House for Hayes, his wife and others on November 17, 1878. This made her the first African American to perform in the White House. After she performed, her husband also sang. A Washington Post article stated, “The several pieces showed to great advantage the remarkable power, sweetness, and versatility of madame’s voice and accomplishments, the “Staccato Polka” especially proving her worthy of her title as ‘Queen of Staccato.'”

That same year she performed at the New York Academy of Music and in 1879 at New York’s Steinway Hall. She toured Europe twice, first from 1882-1885 then again from 1887-1892. Her performances were warmly received there as well. Benjamin Brawl in his book The Negro Genius quotes this from the Figaro of Paris, “She has a strong voice of depth and compass and trills like a feathered songster. Her range is marvelous, and her execution and style of rendition show perfect cultivation.” During the first tour, she gave a command performance for Queen Victoria in 1883.

In 1893, she performed with her husband at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. In October 1896, she performed at Carnegie Hall with two well-known African American women singers, Flora Baston and Sissieretta Jones.

Besides touring, Marie taught at a music studio which she opened in Cleveland, Ohio. She retired from the stage when her husband died. At age 67 she accepted a teaching position at New York’s Martin-Smith School of Music. She died in New York, aged 87 in 1937.

Once again, I stand in awe of women like Marie Selika Williams. For a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card, share your thoughts in the comments.

One Breath Away
by Michal Scott

Sentenced to hang for a crime she didn’t commit, former slave Mary Hamilton was exonerated at literally the last gasp. She returns to Safe Haven, broken and resigned to live alone. She’s never been courted, cuddled or spooned, and now no man could want her, not when sexual satisfaction comes only with the thought of asphyxiation. But then the handsome stranger who saved her shows up, stealing her breath from across the room and promising so much more.

From One Breath Away

He really wanted to dance with her. She blinked, speechless. A warning voice protested.


Her heart countered.


She firmed her lips, heaved a sigh then accepted his invitation. Felicity’s sputtered shock and Widow Hawthorne’s happy cackle accompanied them to the middle of the dance floor.

He placed his fingertips respectfully but firmly above the rise of her buttocks and held her in place against him. A tickle invaded the wool of her skirt where the tip of his middle finger rested at the head of her crack. Pleasure tripped up her spine and trickled between her thighs. But, from the recesses of remembered experience, a voice of caution persisted.

He wants something, Mary. Beware.

“Why—why do you want to dance with me?”

He smiled with the serpent slyness that probably charmed Eve. “I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you.”

“I might.”

He turned his head slightly. “Really? Your practiced calm says otherwise.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Practiced calm?”

“The face you present to the world until something touches your heart.” He gestured to his right. “Like when that baby there cried. Your expression changed to one of concern, then changed to one of contentment when his mother satisfied his hunger.”

Mary blew a breath through her mouth. This man was studying her. Really studying her. Should she be flattered or worried?


14 comments to “Anna Taylor Sweringen/Michal Scott: Marie Selika Williams – First African American to Perform at the White House (Contest)”

  1. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · April 26th, 2024 at 8:05 am · Link

    As always, thanks for letting me share, Delilah.

  2. ELF
    · April 26th, 2024 at 11:55 am · Link

    I’m appreciative that you are helping remind us of all of those who have not been celebrated as they should have been. Congrats to Anna/Michal on the release.

  3. Colleen C.
    · April 26th, 2024 at 11:57 am · Link

    I love learning about these amazing women you share each time you post! Thanks!

  4. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · April 26th, 2024 at 3:34 pm · Link

    Glad to be of service, Elf! Thanks for commenting.

  5. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · April 26th, 2024 at 3:35 pm · Link

    So happy you’re enjoying my posts, Colleen. Thanks for commenting.

  6. BN
    · April 26th, 2024 at 4:52 pm · Link

    informative post

  7. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · April 26th, 2024 at 5:44 pm · Link

    Thanks for commenting, BN.

  8. Jennifer Beyer
    · April 26th, 2024 at 7:26 pm · Link

    I wish there were recordings so we could hear her singing. What an interesting story.

  9. Mary Preston
    · April 26th, 2024 at 8:01 pm · Link

    Yes, I would have loved to hear her sing too. Another incredible woman.

  10. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · April 27th, 2024 at 12:12 am · Link

    What a great idea, Jennifer. Something for me to look into.

  11. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · April 27th, 2024 at 12:14 am · Link

    Hi Mary, I wonder if there might be some recording in the archives of one of the venues in which she performed like Carnegie Hall. Thanks for commenting.

  12. flchen
    · April 27th, 2024 at 9:19 pm · Link

    Thanks for sharing about Marie Selika Williams, Anna–so many incredible women to bring to light! It must have been quite the experience to hear her in person, and I wonder what kind of teacher she was for her students.

  13. Anna Taylor Sweringen
    · April 27th, 2024 at 11:15 pm · Link

    My pleasure flchen. I wonder if some archive contains mentions of her in journals and letters of people who studied with her. Thanks for commenting.

  14. Delilah
    · May 4th, 2024 at 8:17 am · Link

    Thank you, again, Anna for a GREAT post!

    The winner is…Colleen C!

Comments are closed.