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Jules Bledsoe

Famed baritone vocalist Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe was born December 29, 1887 in Waco, McLennan County, Texas to Henry Lee Devalt Bledsoe and Jessie Cobb Bledsoe.  His father died when he was still an infant and by the time he was about two and a half years old, he and his mother were living with her parents, the Cobbs, near downtown Waco.  His grandfather Stephen Cobb has been mentioned as a founder of Waco’s historic congregation, New Hope Baptist Church.  It was at New Hope where young Julius had sung solos by the time he was five years old.  In 1914, Bledsoe graduated as valedictorian of Central Texas Academy, founded by African American Baptists in 1901 in Waco.  From there, Julius went on to enroll at Temple College in Waco before transferring to Bishop College in Marshall, Texas where he earned his A B degree.

Jules, as he became known, then appears to have briefly attended college in Virginia around the time of World War I.  He registered for the draft in September, 1918 at Camp Lee located at Petersburg, Virginia.  Since it was so close to the end of the war, he may not have entered the military.  Bledsoe then enrolled at Columbia University in New York where he studied language, philosophy and science.  He then attended Chicago Musical College as he studied voice with private instructors including Claude Warford, Luigi Parisotti and Lazar Samoiloff.

Bledsoe’s first professional singing appearance is said to have been in 1924 in New York’s Aeolian Theater.  He then appeared in the role of Tizan in 1926 in the Broadway production of Frank Harling’s opera/musical “Deep River.”  Then in 1927, Jules was cast in the role of Joe in Jerome Kern’s new musical “Show Boat.”  Some accounts say that Kern had Bledsoe in mind to sing “Ol’ Man River” when he wrote the musical.  Other (and probably more likely) accounts say that Kern may have initially preferred popular African American vocalist Paul Robeson to play the role of Joe, but Robeson was not available.  Robeson later appeared as Joe in later productions of the musical and the second film adaptation of the musical.

“Showboat” was the product of Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern.  It featured dialogue and lyrics in the vernacular of the period during which shows were conducted aboard river boats.  Romance and issues involving racism were integral themes throughout the musical, based on novelist Edna Ferber’s 1926 book of the same name.

The sequence of events that led to the role of Joe going to Bledsoe were timely.  The role was a perfect match and vehicle for his wonderful voice.  His rendition of the song “Ol’ Man River” became a show stopper in the musical which played to sold out houses on Broadway for over a year.  The musical established Bledsoe in the world of musical theater and contributed positively toward the increasing employment of African American artists on Broadway.  A life-long vocalist and able to sing in six languages, Bledsoe had the necessary talent and strong desire to sing opera, but African American singers were not hired in major American opera companies at that time.  However, Bledsoe was able to sing in touring opera companies in the United States and with opera companies in the United Kingdom and Europe.  He also composed songs and completed an opera named “Bondage” based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

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(Image credit: Harlem World Magazine)

Waco, Texas was proud to follow and acknowledge Bledsoe as a home grown talent.  A headline in the Waco News-Tribune on March 14, 1941 stated “Bledsoe’s Superb Performance Nets Good British Gate.”  The singer packed out Baylor’s Waco Hall for a benefit performance raising funds for relief of England during the Battle of Britain.  “Ol’ Man River” was supposed to be the finale, but the singer was called out many more times for encores.

Jules had a successful career as a vocalist and had also begun to appear in a few Hollywood films.  According to current genealogical sources, Jules is not known to have married nor had any children.  His life was cut short on July 14, 1943 when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in Hollywood, California after appearing with Eleanor Roosevelt on a War Bond tour.  His body was returned to his home town of Waco, Texas.  Bledsoe’s funeral was held on July 21, 1943 at New Hope Baptist Church and was attended by 1,800 people.  The funeral observance included the New Hope Choir singing “Lead Kindly Light,” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  Bledsoe’s life and career were celebrated by Dr. Joe Armstrong, English professor and Browning scholar at Baylor University in Waco.  Following the funeral, Bledsoe’s remains were interred at Greenwood Cemetery on Waco’s east side.  His tombstone includes a line of music from “Ol’ Man River.”

Jules Bledsoe singing “Ol’ Man River”

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Posted by on August 6, 2020 in biography, black history, entertainers

 

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Murder Victims of the Barrow Gang – Private Citizens

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker are believed to have first met around January of 1930 in Dallas where they both were living.  At the time, Clyde was 21 and Bonnie was 19.  Clyde was arrested a few weeks later in the latter part of February for the burglary of the Motor Mark Garage in Denton.  In early March of 1930, while he was awaiting trial for that burglary, Clyde was transferred to McLennan County in connection with burglary and automobile theft charges there.  Barrow was indicted along with William Turner by the McLennan County grand jury for these charges.  Clyde pleaded guilty to a number of them, including the theft of an automobile belonging to W. W. Cameron, a Waco lumber dealer.  It’s unclear if Barrow had also been sentenced by then, but newspaper accounts say that Turner had been sentenced and was awaiting transfer to the Huntsville prison at the time that Bonnie smuggled a gun into the McLennan County jail.  Turner, Barrow and another prisoner named Abernathy were able to escape with the aid of Bonnie Parker and the smuggled gun.  Bonnie remained in Waco as the three escapees left Texas, but the trio were captured in Ohio and returned to the state less than two weeks later.  Barrow was held a few months before being sent to the Eastham Prison Farm to begin serving a fourteen year sentence.  He was paroled in February, 1932 after which he and initially his brother Buck and a number of different associates over time would operate as the Barrow Gang for a little more than two years until he and Bonnie Parker were killed in the ambush is Louisiana in May, 1934.

The gang was accused of at least a dozen deaths, mostly of law enforcement officers but including three citizens, all of whom were killed in 1932.  Hillsboro store owner John Napoleon Bucher was the first known victim, killed on the evening of April 30, 1932, a Saturday.  Clyde was said to have been known to the family through one of Mrs. Bucher’s sons, though the person named may have actually been a cousin by the name of Harrison Bucher.  The Buchers lived in an apartment above the store.  Barrow, Ted Rogers, Ralph Fults and another individual known only as “Johnny” (later identified as Johnny Russell elsewhere) decided to try and rob Bucher’s store safe.  They called on Bucher after hours on the premise of buying guitar strings.  Once inside the store, they attempted to rob Bucher and his wife.  Bucher is said to have reached for a handgun he kept in the safe when someone in the gang shot and fatally wounded him.  The gang made their escape after recovering an unknown amount of cash.  Bucher was sixty-one years old at the time and the father of at least seven children.  He is buried in Ridge Park Cemetery in Hillsboro, Texas.  Bucher was thought to have been killed by Ted Rogers or Ray Hamilton although the widow of Mr. Bucher identified the shooters to be Clyde and Ray.   Hamilton was convicted of the murder and was serving time for it when he and others escaped from the Eastham Prison Farm.

In August, 1932 the gang was responsible for the death of a law officer by the name of Moore in Atoka, Oklahoma.  On Monday October 10, 1932, members of the gang were thought to have taken part in a robbery of Little’s Grocery store on the corner of Wells Ave. and Vaden St. in Sherman, Texas.  While supposedly buying and paying for meat and eggs, the bandits pulled a pistol and attempted to overpower 35 year old Howard Hall and Homer Glaze, store employees, and rob the cash register.  Hall protested and fought with one of the gunmen, was shot three times and died at a local hospital.  The shooter attempted also to shoot Glaze, but the gun jammed.  The bandits made their escape taking about $50 out of the cash register.  To the best of our knowledge, no one was arrested and charged for the crime.  Though he denied committing the murder, Clyde Barrow fit the description of the assailant, described as a being a small man of light complexion and being 20 to 25 years old.  Hall was married and had at least one child and is buried in West Hill Cemetery in Sherman, Texas.  Hall is thought to have been killed by Barrow, though some would say that killing an unarmed man is just not something he would have done.  His brother L. C. Barrow happened to be in the Grayson County jail at that time, having been charged with some crime, but by then Clyde was somewhat well known as an outlaw.  The reasoning was that due to Clyde’s being wanted, it not likely that he would have risked trying to visit his brother in jail.  L. C. was later no-billed by the grand jury and released for lack of evidence.

The next killing attributed to the gang was that of Doyle Johnson, who was from Temple, Texas and had worked as a grocery store clerk.  On Sunday, December 25, 1932, Johnson was taking a nap after lunch when his family heard a commotion outside their home.  Two men were in the process of stealing Johnson’s Ford Model A roadster.  Johnson and others ran outside as the car began to speed away and Johnson jumped on the running board.  One of the car thieves shot him and he fell to the street.  The car was found abandoned a few blocks away with both doors open.  Johnson was taken to Kings Daughters Hospital where he died the following day.  An associate by the name of Frank Hardy was arrested for the shooting in June, 1933.  Hardy was tried in Belton the following November, but was exonerated.  Around that same time, W. D. Jones had been arrested in Dallas and had confessed to taking part in the killing.  In connection with the Hardy trial, Dallas authorities cited a fifty page confession that Jones had given in which Jones provided details of the Johnson murder.  Johnson was 27 years old and married when he was killed.  He is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Temple.  Johnson is thought to have been killed by Jones, but the witnesses were not sure and even identified Frank Hardy as being involved.  Details were difficult to pin town, as Jones’ accounts of the event also were subject to change over time.

What do these three killings have in common?  Either the gang was likely to have netted very little cash or they seem to have gotten rattled and abandoned their stolen car.  During their relatively short crime spree, Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker and various associates also kidnapped and released a number of individuals.  In addition, they were connected with the deaths of at least nine law enforcement officers, bringing the total to at least twelve known murders.

Some accounts also include “Big Ed” Crowder who was stabbed to death in prison in October, 1931, presumably killed by Barrow in retaliation for his treatment of Barrow.  Others also add the death of Wade McNabb, who was found bludgeoned and shot presumably by another gang member in far East Texas in early April, 1934.  Both Crowder and McNabb had been rumored to have abused Barrow while he had been incarcerated at the Eastham facility.

By the time Clyde and Bonnie were killed in Louisiana in May of 1934, they and/or members of the gang were believed to have committed the above murders along with the kidnappings, robberies, car thefts and burglaries.  The kidnappings included two individuals in rural Louisiana and released them near Waldo, Texas.  Ironically, one of the kidnap victims was undertaker Dillard Darby, who would be among the first to tend to their bodies after they died.

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Posted by on July 30, 2020 in outlaws and crimes

 

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John Henry Selman

The El Paso Herald Post carried an article on November 1, 1973 telling of two pistols formerly belonging to outlaw John Wesley Hardin that would be on display in the lobby of the State National Bank for about two weeks.  One of the guns was a nickel plated Smith & Wesson D. A. Frontier pistol that Hardin was carrying when he died.  The second was a Colt “Thunderer” .41 caliber piston.  The latter was engraved with pearl grips.  This gun was taken from Hardin a few days earlier by Deputy Sheriff W. J. Ten Eyck after Hardin allegedly pulled the weapon and brandished it to take money he had lost in a crap game at the Gem Saloon, also called the Acme Saloon in other accounts.  The article continued to relate that Hardin had moved to El Paso in 1895 and set up a legal practice after studying the law while in prison and passing the Texas bar.  Hardin had reportedly killed as many as forty men, but was himself killed by John Henry Selman, a local constable.

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Posted by on July 23, 2020 in outlaws and crimes

 

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Greer Garson

On August 6, 1939, the Harlingen, Texas Valley Morning Star read “Donat Stars In New Film” followed by the sub heading ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips” in Mercedes, Texas.  The article went on to describe the latest film of popular leading man Robert Donat.  Based on the James Hilton novel of the same name, the film tells the story of the life and teaching career of Charles Edward Chipping, a Latin teacher at a British boys’ school.  Donat’s character falls for and marries a beautiful and flashy young woman named Katherine, played by actress Greer Garson in her debut performance.  Revealed in a series of flashbacks, the film portrays the events in Chipping’s life and the individuals who were part of it.  Donat would go on to win an Oscar for Best Actor.  The film was the first major role in the long and successful career of Garson.  She was also nominated for an Oscar that year, but the award went instead to Vivian Leigh for her performance in “Gone With The Wind.”

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Posted by on July 16, 2020 in entertainers, films, schools

 

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Bonnie and Clyde Posse: Hinton, Oakley, Alcorn and Jordan

posse

(Image credit: Corsicana Daily Sun)

Front row: Bob Alcorn, Henderson Jordan and Frank Hamer, back row: Ted Hinton, Prentiss (not Presley) Oakley and B.M. “Maney” Gault

The Associated Press headline read “Two Former Rangers and Deputies Trail Couple to Hideout – Desperadoes Die Without Firing Shot.”  Special Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was quoted as saying, “The job is done.”

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