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Lessons from Patti J. Malone

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

I heard about Patti J. Malone for the first time when I walked into High Cotton Arts in Athens, Alabama, and spotted a captivating portrait of Miss Malone painted by Ann Moeller Steverson.

When I inquired about the subject of the painting, I learned that Miss Malone and I had two things in common -- we were both born in Athens, and we were both musicians. But that's where the similarities ended.

Patti J. Malone was born into slavery on The Cedars Plantation in Athens in 1858. She was just a toddler when the Civil War began. She witnessed her mother endure harsh treatment at the hands of slave owners. After the war, the American Missionary Association formed Trinity School in Athens for children of former slaves, and Patti's mother agreed to work for her former owners so that Patti could attend. Patti was fiercely determined to get an education, even attending classes when she was too sick to sit up and could only lay on the floor during the lessons.

When she graduated from Trinity, Patti was allowed to enroll in what is now Fisk University in Nashville, which was also started by the American Missionary Association. In order to raise money for the school, Fisk formed a singing group consisting of 9 students. They raised a LOT of money with their performances and were invited to perform internationally. Patti was chosen as an alternate (she was actually referred to as a chaperone), but she had to stay behind in Nashville. One of the main singers got sick in Germany, so Patti traveled across the Atlantic to take her place. She made her musical debut in Hamburg, Germany. From that point on, she was a regular with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Over the next 20 years, Patti sang in 17 foreign countries and for 6 European heads of state.

She died in Nebraska in 1897 after becoming ill while on tour, and her body was brought back to Athens for burial. She was interred at the Hines/Hobbs Cemetery at the corner of West Hobbs and North Hines Street.

According to a plaque inside the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, The Cleveland Gazette said of her, "It is safe to say that no woman of her race ever sang in so many different countries of the world as Miss Patti J. Malone.”

Miss Malone was recognized for the angelic quality of her voice and for her endurance in the face of adversity. From what I can tell, she never married or had children, and I don't know her spiritual condition. But maybe, just maybe, there was a Christian influence in those schools formed by the missionary association, and she was able to find her strength by relying on Almighty God.

Psalm 40:2 -- "He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps."

Psalm 66: 11-12 - "You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water;

But You brought us out to rich fulfillment."

Psalm 69:14 - "Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink;

Let me be delivered from those who hate me, and out of the deep waters."

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