The singer who first performed the song "Ol' Man River" is an obscure figure today. Baritone Julius Bledsoe was among the first African Americans to appear on Broadway, but he made few recordings and his fame was soon eclipsed by the great Paul Robeson, who succeeded him in the role of Joe in the classic musical Show Boat.

Bledsoe was born in Waco around 1897 and attended Bishop College in Marshall. He took voice lessons while studying medicine at Columbia University in the early 1920s and made his professional debut at New York's Aeolian Hall in 1924. Three years later, Bledsoe appeared in the original production of Show Boat. A critic from the New York Morning Telegraph described him as "a singer who can pick the heart right out of your body—if you don’t look out." More»

Texas Originals is also now available on iTunes! Subscribe to the podcast today to download all episodes that have aired to date and to automatically receive future episodes.

Portrait of Julius Bledsoe. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.