Here are a few belated footnotes to my piece on Ira and Luranah Aldridge, which appeared in The New Yorker a couple of issues back. Mainly, I'd like to thank those who helped to bring this unusually complicated project to fruition: archivists at the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library, who let me spend time with their Aldridge materials; Nicholas Vazsonyi and Julie Hubbert, who commissioned my "Black Wagner" lecture for the WagnerWorldWide Conference at the University of South Carolina last January; Jens Laurson, who shed light on the correspondence between Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Cosima Wagner; Oliver Hilmes, biographer of Cosima, who answered questions about the Meisterin; and, especially, Kristina Unger of the Richard Wagner Museum in Bayreuth, who has been extraordinarily helpful at various stages of this project and with my Wagnerism book in progress.
Some books and articles that proved helpful in my research: Bernth Lindfors's three Ira Aldridge books; Herbert Marshall and Mildred Stock's classic biography of the actor; Paul Gilroy's remarkable study Black Atlantic; Hazel Waters's Racism on the Victorian Stage; Jeffrey Green's Black Edwardians; Marvin McAllister's White People Do Not Know How to Behave at Entertainments Designed for Ladies & Gentleman of Colour; George A. Thompson's Documentary History of the African Theatre; Shane White's Stories of Freedom in Black New York; Sander Gilman's On Blackness without Blacks: Essays on the Image of the Black in Germany; Russell Berman's essay "Du Bois and Wagner"; Kenneth Barkin's "W. E. B. Du Bois's Love Affair with Imperial Germany"; Kira Thurman's “Black Venus, White Bayreuth"; Kwame Anthony Appiah's "Ethics in a World of Strangers"; and, of course, David Levering Lewis's monumental Du Bois biography.
More material related to Luranah will surely come to light. I'd be particularly interested to know where and when she might have sung the role of Erda; a signed photograph from the soprano Félia Litvinne suggests that she did. And it would be good to learn more of Luranah's musical siblings, the singer-composer Amanda Aldridge and the pianist-composer Ira Frederick Aldridge. The Northwestern collection contains various compositions by the two; the latter's "Luranah," presumably named for his sister, seems an ordinary parlor song at first glance but contains some surprising chromatic twists. As I note in the piece, Ira Frederick came to a tragic end, flinging himself from a window in a fever-induced delirium. Amanda, on the other hand, lived to a grand old age. Incidentally, for a time the sisters lived in a house in Bedford Gardens, next door to the composer Frank Bridge. They might have seen young Benjamin Britten, Bridge’s star pupil, darting in and out.
Previously: At the grave of Luranah Aldridge.