This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is about music, which is near and dear to my heart. My family is very musical; I play the flute and piano, my brother plays the piano and drums, my mom plays the piano, my grandmother plays the piano, and so did my 2x great grandmother, Jessie Robinson, and her sister Bertha. I know that another 2x great grandmother had a piano, so she likely played as well.
Of all of my family, my great great grandmother, Jessie Preston Robinson, was by far the most accomplished. She played the organ at her church in Nashville for many years, and when she was younger, she often performed at musical events. I had heard family stories for years about her talent, but I didn’t realize the extent until I found some of the pieces she played at recitals.
Jessie was born on 20 January 1876 in Zanesville, Ohio to Charles and Cora Preston. Charles was a molder, and in 1881, he was hired by Phillips and Buttorff Manufacturing Company to be the foreman of their foundry. Charles moved to Nashville, and Cora and their children, Jessie and Walter, followed in 1882.
By 1886, Jessie was enrolled in a music course taught by Mrs. Cleveland, though she had likely been playing for several years. She, along with other piano students, exhibited their skills on 15 May 1886:
A Delightful Little Concert.
There was a delightful little concert last night at the residence of Mr. B. Franklin on Monroe street, given by members of Mrs. Cleveland’s musical class. When it is considered that many of these are children who commenced studying music only last fall, the excellence with which the different numbers were rendered is remarkable. The programme was as follows:
Instrumental duet – “Mountain Glee,” Miss Mary Lee Jones and Miss Jennie Sweeney.
Silver Springs Waltz, Miss Jessie Preston.
Chorus – See Saw Song.
Vocal solo – “Flee as a Bird,” Mr. Percy Cleveland.
Instrumental solo – “Highland Glen March,” Miss Mary Lee Jones.
Chorus – “Come where Flowers Bloom.”
Instrumental solo – “Woodland Echoes,” Miss Maggie Epperson.
Vocal quartet – “Moonlight will Come Again,” Mrs. Cleveland and Messrs. Cleveland.
Instrumental solo – “Blue Mozella Waltz” and “Faust March,” Miss Jennie Sweeney.
Vocal duet – “I Come, I Come,” Miss Edwards and Miss Epperson
Song – “My Cottage Home,” Mrs. Cleveland and sons.
Duet – Heel and Toe Polka, Miss Epperson and Miss Preston.
Instrumental solo – Sonata in E (Lichner) No. 2, Miss Jessie Preston.
Instrumental solo – “Chant de Berger,” Miss Maggie Epperson.
On February 10, 1888, when Jessie was 12 years old, she participated in another performance of her musical abilities as a student of Mrs. Cleveland. She performed “German Triumphal March” by Jacob Kunkel and “Il Trovatore.”
Here is the first page of the “German Triumphal March.” I was incredibly impressed that Jessie could play this at such a young age! It proves how talented she really was.
Below is the sheet music for “Il Trovatore, a musical selection written by Giuseppe Verdi and arranged for the piano by E. Dorn. It is another complicated piece for a young girl to play.
By 1890, Jessie had left Mrs. Cleveland’s school and was receiving lessons from Professor Emmet Coyle. On 7 June, Jessie and other students performed at the Y.M.C.A.:
PROF. COYLE’S RECITAL.
A Charming Amateur Entertainment at the Y.M.C.A. Last Night.
The pretty auditorium of the Young Men’s Christian Association building was well filled last night by a representative audience of Nashville’s most cultivated lovers of music. The occasion was a piano recital by the pupils of Prof. Emmet Coyle. Mr. Coyle is a young man of marked ability as a musician and instructor. He has already attained considerable prominence in musical circles with a reputation extending beyond the city. Those of his pupils appearing were Misses Sammie Warren, Jennie Sanders, Rosa Rosenzweig, Lizzie Corder, Lillie Veronee, Emma Englert, Nellie Hagerty, Jessie Preston, Hattie Clarkson, Clara Jungerman, Carrie Zickler, Annie Zickler, Sophie Levy, Ray Flattau and Fannie Flattau, and Masters Frank McDonald, Charlie Sanders, Abe Rosenzweig and Arthur Jungerman. The selections were from classic music and, in the main, quite difficult, but the piano work was good, reflecting praise on both instructor and pupils.
The programme was pleasingly varied by several of Nashville’s talented amateurs, whose appearance is always hailed with pleasure. Mr. Tom Norton McClure sang a pretty selection; Mrs. A. H. Stewart rendered Belline’s Bridal Song; Mr. Robert Nichol sang Verdi’s “Evi Tu Che Macchiavi;” Miss Lillie Pearl Levy sang “Madaline,” from White’s composition, and Miss Mamie Geary and Prof. Coyle rendered DeBeriot’s seventh concerto with piano and violin. Prof. Feliz Heinck, of New York, also appeared. He sings a rich and well cultivated baritone which won especial applause. He has been induced to consider location here.
The entertainment was, on the whole, one of the most thoroughly satisfying of the season.
Sadly, Emmet Coyle died in 1891, and by necessity, Jessie would have found a new musical instructor.
Another reference in the newspaper of a performance in which Jessie took part appeared on 11 February 1894:
Jessie was 18 years old when she played the piano in this recital. I just wish it included what pieces she played! An interesting observation for me was that another performer, Jennie Cassetty, was Jessie’s future husband’s first cousin. This is the first time where I have seen a connection between the two families prior to Jessie and Thomas’s marriage in 1897.
After learning about Jessie’s musical talents, it made me wonder where her musical ability came from. I honestly did not think I would ever learn this, but then I found a photo in an old family album that answered this question: her father! Jessie’s father, Charles Preston, played the violin, as shown in the photograph below. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything further, and I don’t know who the other man is, but it gives a tantalizing glimpse into the Preston’s family life.
It was so much fun to find out that music connects the generations of my family, from the 1850s to the present. And it is very fitting for such a musical family to have lived in Music City! (Nashville)