African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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Sharing Stories: One Family's Story
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My mother, Marie Moss Smith Washington, D.C. 1873 Washington, D.C. A traditional story that has been passed down for years

My great grandfather, William T. Benjamin, was a member of the choir at St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., a Black church. He had received a gold cane from St. Augustine's for his 40 years of service singing as a baritone in the choir. My aunt, who is 85 years old, has the gold cane in her possession. For years, my mother used to tell me about her grandfather and his rich baritone voice. Last year, the WASHINGTON POST carried an article about my great grandfather and how he had co-founded the Colored American Opera in the Washington, D.C. area, along with a Caucasian teacher, Mr. Espata. Last week the Strathmore Theatre had a performance of "Free to Sing", which was about the St. Augustine's choir in 1873 and how some of the members of the choir formed the first Colored American Opera, which performed at the Lincoln Hall in Washington, D.C. The event at Strathmore on February 16, 2008, was a beautiful story about St. Augustine's Church and the beginnings of the Colored American Opera which was co-founded by William T. Benjamin, my great grandfather. It is believed that this opera was the first opera of any persuasion in the Washington, D.C. area. The members began the opera as a way to raise money for the church. William T. Benjamin's wife, Mary Smith, began the school for the students at St. Augustine's.

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Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 and its outreach initiatives is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional corporate funding is provided by Buick.
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