Viola Hill papers, 1909-1948

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Hill, Viola, Diton, Carl R. (Carl Rossini), 1886-1962, and White, Clarence Cameron, 1880-1960
Viola Hill was an African American soprano and businesswoman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her papers date from 1909-1948, and comprise many folders of professional and personal correspondence; recital programs, sheet music, and scores; clippings and other print materials; music notebooks; tour schedules, contacts, and publicity, including some photographs of Hill; and financial and educational materials. The papers document Hill's career and entrepreneurship as a professionally-trained vocalist; the status and professional activities of African Americans in music across the United States in the early 20th century, including comments about racial discrimination; and the societies, clubs, and educational institutions which supported African American musicians. Some materials document Hill's term as secretary of the Philadelphia branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians, and Hill's business and musical collaborations with important mentors: composer, pianist, and singer Carl Diton, her voice teacher Percy Dunn Aldridge, and composer and violinist Clarence Cameron White.
2.0 Linear Feet (4 boxes; 1 oversize folder)
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Collection consists of the papers of Viola Hill, an African American soprano from Philadephia (1889-?), dating from 1909 to 1948. About half of the papers consist of Hill's professional and some personal correspondence, chiefly incoming; other papers include many recital programs and publicity, music scores, clippings, business cards, music notebooks, travel and tour schedules, lists of contacts, expense notes, and bills and receipts. There are a few photographic images of Hill as a young woman.

The materials document Viola Hill's voice career, and especially her entrepreneurship in managing her voice training and organizing tours and concerts across the U.S. Other papers document her role as secretary of the Philadelphia branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians (NAMN), and her business and musical collaborations with important mentors: NAMN president, musician, composer, and singer Carl Diton, Black violinist and composer Clarence Cameron White, and her professional voice teacher in Philadelphia, Percy Dunn Aldrich.

The materials in this collection also inform the history of African American men and women professional musicians and entertainers in the 20th century, particularly in piano, classical and operatic music, and in the spiritual tradition. Among the sheet music and scores are examples of African American-composed music. There are several references in letters and publicity to Black singer Marion Anderson.

There is little material on Viola Hill's personal life, though the correspondence contains letters from close friends and relatives, including a J. G. Morton from N.C. who addressses her as "cousin." Of interest are many letters from male and female fellow musicians and vocalists, including friends from her music school classmates.

Biographical / historical:

Viola Hill (1889-?), who also signs some items in the collection as Viola R. H. Hill, Viola Ruth Harrison Hill, and after 1935, Viola Hill Green, was an African American soprano, music teacher, and business entrepreneur of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Born in Virginia, by 1900 Hill was living in Philadelphia with her family.

She received a Certificate of Proficiency in Music from the University of Pennsylvania. Based on reviews and performance compensation, her career advanced rapidly after her schooling, reaching its peak in the mid-1920s, when she was organizing and carrying out multi-city tours chiefly in the East and Midwest. She was active in the National Association of Negro Musicians, serving as president of the Philadelphia branch.

She lived in Philadelphia in her family house on Catherine Street, which she eventually owned, until at least 1940. In 1945, according to online graduation records, she received a Bachelor in Music (voice), and in 1947, a Master's in Music, from the Philadelphia Musical Academy.

Federal census data from 1950 show her living in New York City with John G. Morton from North Carolina, whose letters are in her correspondence, and his family. Her death date and burial location are currently unknown.

Acquisition information:
The Viola Hill papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1995 and 2008.
Processing information:

Processed and described by library staff, circa 1995. Reprocessed and reparative description created by Paula Jeannet, October 2022.

Accession(s) represented in this collection guide: 1995-0013, 2008-0238.


Arranged in these series: Correspondence, Music Papers, Business Papers, Writings and Notes.

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Viola Hill papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.