(FOX40.COM) — Following the mass migration of the Gold Rush in the early 1850s, an African American New York barber, his wife, and two children made the 3,000-mile journey west to strike a figurative gold of their own.

Finding themselves in Sacramento, Samuel B. Hyers set up shop in the future capital city as his wife Annie E. Hyers tended to the musical education of their daughters Anna and Emma.

The young sisters showed a natural vocal and musical ability as he continued to invest in their education.

German professor Hugo Sank and later opera singer Josephine D’Ormy taught the young girls before they began performing for private parties to prepare for larger audiences.

The Hyers Sisters, at the ages of 9 and 11, would make their public debut on April 22, 1867, at the Sacramento Metropolitan Theater, which was located on K Street between 4th and 5th streets.

This performance in Sacramento would launch their pioneering career as professional singers and stage actors in post-Emancipation America.

The young girls’ opera performance received glowing reviews, which jumpstarted their careers that would take them across the country.

With their father leaving behind the barber chair to manage his daughters, they hit the road in August 1871 for their first nationwide tour.

They performed in Salt Lake City, Chicago, Cleveland, New York City and Boston.

Their performance in Boston was part of the 1872 World Peace Jubilee, which was one of the nation’s first integrated major musical concerts.

As the sisters’ fame grew over the following years, they decided to launch their own theater company, where they produced musicals and dramas.

Some of the more notable works to come out of the theater company were:
Out of Bondage, written by Joseph Bradford
Urlina, the African Princess, written by E. S. Gethchell
The Underground Railway, written by Pauline Hopkins
• Stage version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Pauline Hopkins

According to Nadine George-Graves’ The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville, the 1890 production of Out of Bondage was the first Black-organized musical show.

These shows would create a new pathway for future Black artists and those looking to bring the stories of the African American experience to the stage.

From the late 1870s to the 1880s, the Hyers sisters’ theater company had more than six shows running. They traveled with the shows through the mid-1880s and continued to appear on stage into the 1890s.

In 1893, the sisters announced their retirement from stage life at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Matthew Nobert

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