Mentor and Protégée

Throughout her annotated scrapbooks and papers, Joy McLean Bosfield credits her mentors and celebrates her students, creating a musical genealogy that spans generations and genres. Scrapbook I, for example, features concert programs directed by Florence Waller, McLean Bosfield’s chorus teacher at Ridgewood High School. McLean Bosfield pens a note next to a choir program that she directed about five years after graduation. Her distinctive cursive expresses gratitude, “Having had such expert choral training with Florence Waller at R.H.S., there was no doubt that I could conduct efficiently. I got the job!” In a similar note by a program at New York City's Emmanuel AME Church, she identifies another early mentor, conductor Charles H. Alford. “My professional education begins with Charlie Alford, a gifted tenor.”

Joy McLean sits with children in the library

Joy McLean directed children's choirs as well as adult choirs in Manhattan and Washington, DC. In 1951, she worked as YWCA Club Leader in Leeds, England.  The Joy McLean Bosfield papers, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Joy McLean Bosfield.

On another scrapbook page, McLean Bosfield acknowledges renowned choral director Eva Jessye's advocacy, which led to her Broadway debut in 1945. Next to clippings related to Memphis Bound!, a musical whose all-black cast starred tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, an accompanying note explains, “Working with these stars before graduating from college gave me confidence. [Assistant director] Eva Jessye spots me & convinces [producer] John Wildberg that altho’ I have no ‘up tempo’ song to audition with I could back the work musically.” Jessye remembered McLean Bosfield six years later while both were in England, connecting McLean Bosfield with a life-changing role in the international touring production of Porgy and Bess. They kept in touch. McLean Bosfield's papers include a warm letter from Jessye in 1962 and a newspaper article about Jessye leading Frederick Wilkerson's singers in her folk-oratorio, Paradise Lost and Regained, at the National Cathedral in 1973.

Frederick "Wilkie" Wilkerson served as both mentor and colleague. McLean Bosfield took lessons from and taught with Wilkerson, who had vocal studios in New York City and Washington, DC. She moved from New York to DC to teach with him in 1962. Their students included Bernice Johnson Reagon, then a doctoral student, who became a curator at the Smithsonian's Musueum of American History and founded the acapella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. As with Jessye, McLean Bosfield's papers preserve loving letters from Wilkerson. When he moved back to New York in 1980, she became director of the renamed McLean Bosfield Vocal Studio. The Studio held a last concert in 1985 "in memory of beloved teacher Frederick Wilkerson."

The final pages of Scrapbook II contain newspaper articles about students, and additional papers (not digitized) show the range of her instruction. Singer Deater O’Neill, who performed in the final concert of the McLean Bosfield Vocal Studio, is the subject of a Washington Post profile. Another clipping announces the world premiere of Bassoon Concerto by former student David Avram, whose affectionate letters are also among the collection. A handwritten note from narrator Paul Danquah adorns a program from the 1977 premiere of the World Bank film, “An Essay on Poverty." Howard University music professor Valerie (Kehembe) Eichelberger is one of many accomplished artists citing McLean Bosfield’s coaching in their professional biographies. 

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