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The Black Swan

In celebration of Black History Month, I salute Elizabeth Greenfield (1819-1876), a Mississippi slave whose golden voice was her ticket to freedom. Born on a Natchez, Mississippi, plantation, Elizabeth was taken as an infant to Philadelphia by her owner, Holliday Greenfield. After joining the Society of Friends (Quakers), Mrs. Greenfield freed and adopted her charge. As Elizabeth grew up and showed a natural flair for singing, she astonished Mrs. Greenfield with the power and range of her voice and her self-taught skills on the guitar. Recognizing a remarkable talent, Mrs. Greenfield sought formal training, but could find no Philadelphia voice coach willing to jeopardize his professional reputation with a student of color, even at three times the going rate of...

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