• Wed. May 31st, 2023

Cincinnati’s forgotten opera singer

By Clarity Amrein

Genealogy and local history

Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library

Cincinnati’s forgotten opera singer’s story is being told in a new documentary premiering this week.

The Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library’s Genealogy and Local History Department’s oral history video series, Exceptional Cincinnatians, explores the lives of Cincinnati’s professionals, artists, activists, journalists, and everyday citizens, both past and present who have made a difference in our community. These “mini-documentaries” feature face-to-face interviews, scanned images and artifacts from our collection, and present-day footage.

A poster advertises Nadine Waters’ concert in Paris. Photo provided

Cincinnati’s Forgotten Opera Singer

In the next installment of Exceptional Cincinnatians, the Library details the life of Cincinnati’s “forgotten” soprano vocal artist, concert soloist, and recitalist Nadine Roberts Waters.

Waters was an African American woman and a native of the Cincinnati neighborhood of Wyoming. In the 1920s, Nadine studied at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, performed around Paris in the 1930s, and sang at some of the biggest venues in Cincinnati such as Memorial Hall, Music Hall, and Emery Auditorium.

Though Nadine Waters achieved great successes in the United States and abroad, she never quite received the recognition for her talents in Cincinnati she deserved. This was true despite Waters winning many contests singing in multiple languages, performing with the Pasdeloup Symphony Orchestra in Paris, before British and French dignitaries and royalty, and having support from the influential Schmidlapp and Longworth families.

Nadine Waters was the subject of a story in the Lincoln Heights News, in which she is called Cincinnati’s Marian Anderson. Photo provided

Digital Preservation by the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library

Jennifer Sauers and Sherry Sheffield of the Wyoming Historical Society contacted CHPL’s Digital Services department to have a large scrapbook scanned, and Digital Services sprang into action to preserve it. Using an archival flatbed scanner, Nadine Water’s personal scrapbook full of letters, programs, playbills, photos, and posters was digitized. The images can be accessed anytime on our Digital Library.

After seeing Nadine’s scrapbook, which included programs from her recitals, photos, and letters from notable figures such as Louis B. Meyer, W.C. Handy, Josephine Baker, Nadia Boulanger, presidents, socialites, and more, the Genealogy & Local History Department knew there was a story to tell.

Nadine Waters was the subject of a story in the Lincoln Heights News, in which she is called Cincinnati’s Marian Anderson. Photo provided

Connecting Cincinnati History to the present

Thanks to the help of Jennifer Sauers, Thea Tjepkema from the Cincinnati Preservation Association and Friends of Music Hall, contemporary Cincinnati vocal artist Noël Walton, and Cincinnati’s Memorial Hall, Nadine’s story is told through not only artifacts from her scrapbook and interviews, but also through song and spirituality.

Documentary Screening Event this March

View the documentary on the Library’s YouTube channel or experience it in person for a live screening event 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 30 at the newly renovated Walnut Hills Branch Library, 2533 Kemper Lane (45206). CHPL will screen the one-hour documentary and a question and answer panel with the interviewees and experts on Nadine Waters and Cincinnati vocal arts history. No registration is required.

Celebrate a new exceptional Cincinnatian every three months Find Nadine Roberts Waters’ oral history episode and future videos on the Library’s YouTube channel.

Do you know an Exceptional Cincinnatian with a story to tell? Email Clarity.Amrein@chpl.org.

Poster advertising Nadine Waters’ appearance at the Emery in Cincinnati. Photo provided