Influential black artists from Rhode Island

Kayla Ivan, Herald Contributor

Viola Davis 

After studying theatre at Rhode Island College and moving onto The Juilliard School thereafter, Davis’ career was just beginning.

As a Hollywood star, she has taken on roles in film and television that explore a variety of stories for women. Her most successful films include, “Eat Pray Love,” “The Help,” “Suicide Squad” and “Fences.” She also plays the leading role on the TV show “How to Get Away with Murder.”

Davis has won a plethora of awards, including two Tonys, an Emmy and an Academy Award. She was the first black actress to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting, which is reached by earning a Tony, Emmy and Academy Award.

Edward Mitchell Bannister 

Bannister is a 19th century Black Canadian-American Tonalist painter. He lived in Providence, Rhode Island, after moving to New England in the late 1840s.  

He has been revered on the East Coast for his artistic work. Tonalism is an artistic style that uses a tone of colored atmosphere or mist in landscape forms.

One of his most famous pieces of work is “Under the Oaks,” which received a bronze medal from the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia. Although racial prejudice hindered his full potential in terms of public acclaim, he found success in the mid-to-late 1860s. Rhode Island College dedicated its art gallery in his honor in 1978, calling it the E.M. Bannister Gallery. 

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones  

Jones was a famous black concert singer in the 19th century. She was the first black artist who was able to perform at Wallack’s Theatre in New York. She toured around the world.

Jones trained in her craft at the Providence Academy of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. She is a member not only of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, but the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame as well. Jones was often called “The Black Patti,” which was adapted from Italian Opera Singer Adelina Patti. Jones was the highest paid black singer and performer of her time.

Dr. Raymond T. Jackson

Jackson was a successful concert pianist and a Providence native. After graduating from The Juilliard School and the New England Conservatory of Music, he acted as an influential musician who brought the music of black composers to life onstage for audiences to hear and experience.

Jackson is accredited with being the first and youngest black musician to be elected into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. During the 20th century, his gifts were shared with audiences and students around the world. He was given the Outstanding Alumni Award from the New England Conservatory of Music in 2005 in recognition of his achievements throughout his long musical career.