Frances Crosby talk – Part 1

This post is part of a series

So for this post I’ve edited the transcript of my talk to make it more blog friendly.

The cool thing about going out to listen to Jazz is that it’s really great to listen to a genre of music that I don’t listen to all the time. Jazz is really quite amazing, because it’s influenced all our music from baby boomers down.

But in the next few posts, I want to tell you about someone who had a huge influence on Jazz, and regardless of whether you’re Louis Armstrong, Dizzie Gillespie, Wash Johnson or Ella Fitzgerald all of them say that their music was profoundly influenced by this person. And her name was Frances Crosby.

You may never have heard the name Frances Crosby. She hasn’t got a famous name like John Coltrane or Ray Charles or Cab Calloway. But I reckon by the end of tonight you’ll be glad that you now have heard of her.

She was born in 1820 in rural America. And over her 95 years she wrote a tad over 8000 songs.

Now for those of you playing at home, I did the maths, she was alive for 34657 days which means she wrote a song on average every 4.3 days across her life. That’s including when she was a baby and probably wasn’t writing that much.

In fact at one stage she had a contract with a publishing company to write three songs a week at $2 a pop and she regularly exceeded it, sometimes by 15 songs. She was an amazingly talented songstress; an incredible musician.

But there was just one thing that made things hard for her.

When Frances was just 6 weeks old she developed an eye infection. The family’s regular doctor was out of town so they called another doctor. And the story is a bit sketchy as to exactly what happened next but it would seem that this doctor accidentally reached for a plaster product that had mustard and caustic soda in it instead of whatever it was he was going to give her for her eye infection and he inadvertently instantly blinded her. She was blind for the rest of her life. The Doctor, realising his mistake packed up and left town and they never heard from him again.

Can you imagine what her parents would have felt? Can you imagine how difficult her life would have been after that? Can you imagine how easy it would be for a child to just slip into bitterness and carry that through their life?

Well that wasn’t Frances. Have a listen to this poem she wrote about her blindness:

Oh what a happy soul I am,

Although I cannot see;

I am resolved that in this world

Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy,

That other people don’t;

To weep and sigh because I’m blind,

I cannot, and I won’t.”

Frances wrote this when she was just 8 years old.

More tomorrow.


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