Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield


Elizabeth Taylor-Greenfield received worldwide acclaim as a gifted vocalist with an “astonishing” range, easily embracing 27 notes. Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe, novelist, noted that Elizabeth “sings a most magnificent tenor.” Elizabeth was likened to the greatest of White artists of the day, particularly Jenny Lind who was referred to as the “Swedish Nightingale.” Elizabeth’s performances created much enthusiasm and reception was so great that she received the sobriquet, “Black Swan”.

Born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1809, she was reared in Philadelphia by a Quaker lady named Greenfield whose name she adopted. After her guardian’s death in 1844, Elizabeth moved to Buffalo, New York. Seven years later she appeared before the Buffalo Musical Association at Corinthian Hall. She began singing to packed houses “…of respectable, cultured and fashionable people,” observed the Buffalo Press, and was critically acclaimed for her vocal artistry. She frequently performed before government officials, heads of state, and visiting dignitaries in Boston and New York.

In 1853, Elizabeth went to Europe. With the aid of Harriet Beecher Stowe, she was befriended by the Duchess of Sutherland, who arranged many concerts patronised by royalty. In May 1854, she gave a command performance at Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria and was accompanied by Her Majesty’s royal organist and composer, Sir George Smart.

Elizabeth returned to the United States in July 1854; and, as usual, was well received by audiences and critics alike. She received favourable reviews from newspapers that were pro-slavery. As so appropriately stated by the Provincial Freeman, a Black anti-slavery press, “…not a few gentlemen and ladies conquered their prejudices and made calls upon the gifted vocalist during the few days she stayed in their midst.”

After the Civil War, she settled in Philadelphia and opened a voice studio. In 1866, she and her students performed at the National Hall, “Festival of the Friends of Freedom”, sponsored by the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Elizabeth Taylor-Greenfield, the celebrated “Black Swan”, flew to great heights, bringing honour to herself and, most certainly, credit to her race. She died at the age of 67, in 1876.