Marian Wilson Kimber is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Iowa.
Kitty Cheatham, Classical Music, Spirituals, and the Career of a Professional Child
The singer and diseuse Kitty Cheatham gave holiday concerts for children in New York from 1904 into the 1920s. She also appeared with major American orchestras and toured Europe and America. The child-like voice and demeanor cultivated by Cheatham facilitated her eclectic programming of children’s songs, nursery rhymes, and European art music alongside spirituals and texts spoken in African-American dialect. This paper contextualizes Cheatham’s performance of classical music and spirituals within her broader persona. Cheatham was an advocate for the music of African Americans and influential in the creation of English song, while at the same time infantilizing high art music and perpetuating racial stereotypes.