T. T. Shields ‘Second Fiddle’ to A. E. Greenlaw… Who?

This article appeared in the screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-8-53-53-amVancouver Daily World on August 17, 1908. An intriguing aspect of the piece, to me, was that Shields, who was near the beginning of his career as an Ontario Baptist preacher of note (later, pastor at Jarvis Street Baptist in Toronto, and, ultimately, a leader of the Canadian Baptist fundamentalist movement who would contribute to the mid-1920s strife that would split the denomination), was given much less attention (in terms of column-inches) than the to-me-unknown singer, A. E. Greenlaw, who is described as “one of Canada’s greatest singers”!

Albert E. Greenlaw (circa1880-1953) was an American bass singer who (judging from his many concerts in Baptist churches) was probably of that denominational stripe.

Greenlaw also was a black man. He was apparently an original member of the Nashville-based, African-American group known then (and now) as the Fisk Jubilee Singers (consisting of students at Fisk University).

ttshields

T. T. Shields

Greenlaw apparently had a pretty busy solo career, post-Fisk, touring in North America; his popularity (and, to some extent, that of Shields) pulled 1,800 people into the Vancouver Opera House a week after this Daily World article appeared.  It cannot truly be said that Greenlaw was “one of Canada’s greatest singers”, however; indeed, it seems improbable that Greenlaw cast himself as a ‘Canadian’. By 1925, he was described in the Ottawa Journal as the “well-known bass of Detroit, Michigan”.

I have found an early recording of the Fisk Singers (1909); although Greenlaw would have been long-gone by the time this recording was made, it conveys something of their a cappella musical style. If you are wondering how Greenlaw sounded as a soloist, I suspect that he may have sounded quite similar to the late George Beverly Shea (1909-1913). An example of Bev Shea’s musical style is here.

A remarkable thing about Greenlaw and Shields is how they have almost completely disappeared from the historical ‘radar’ of most Canadians (and, I’d venture to guess, likewise of Americans). Neither is a household name. To borrow from Isaiah 40, reputations and notoriety wither and fade along with grass and flowers.

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