An Ancestral Lineage

February 18th, 2014 § 0 comments

In honor of Black History Month, we welcome guest Blogger Louis Arthur Norton, who shares the story of Principal Bassist Edward R. Rozie’s ancestor, Joseph Antonio Emidy:

A distinguished grey haired gentleman is usually seen on extreme right of the stage, half perched on a high stool during the concerts of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO).

He wears a salt and pepper goatee that frames an infectious broad smile that radiates warmth. Reflecting musicianship and professionalism his eyes reflect melancholy or mischief depending upon the musical score, yet always watching for the expressive nuances of conductor Maestra Carolyn Kuan. A Connecticut native and a resident of Windsor, Edward R. Rozie junior better known as Rick, is the personable principal of the bass section and the holder of the HSO Claire and Millard Pryor Orchestra Committee Chair.

Rozie taught himself to play the family’s piano at age 5 then tinkered with learning the drums. Finally at East Hartford High School in Connecticut the band director suggested that they needed a bass player. He gave it a try and was “hooked.” The band director played in a jazz group and invited the budding bass player to sit in. This was an inspirational outlet for the young Rozie who went on to study double bass with Bertram Turetzky, William Rhein, and Orin O’Brien.

Besides being an artist the contra bass player is a teacher of on the faculty at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. Rozie taught double base at the Harford Conservatory of Music and the University of Connecticut from 1977 to 1983. He then returned to the Hartt School, his alma mater, as Adjunct Professor Rozie at Hartt’s famed Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz. Rick brought a depth of musical knowledge, partly from the disciplined classical tradition that he loves when performing as principle bass with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and more free flowing interpretive jazz conventions. Being of African roots, Rick likes to teach using the West African groits oral storyteller’s tradition combining a sense of history of the musical genre and his own example as a performer.

Rozie’s musical resumé includes playing bass in both symphony orchestras and jazz ensembles. Under classical music Mr. Rozie has played with Philharmonica de las Americas (summer festival in Mexico City), Kansas City Philharmonic, Springfield Symphony, New Haven Symphony, Connecticut Opera and the Hartford Ballet. A longtime member of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, he currently is principal of the bass section and the holder of the HSO Claire and Millard Pryor Orchestra Committee Chair. In the field of jazz, he played with Mixashawn, Jay Hoggard Quartet, James Newton, Anthony Davis, Muhal Richard Adams, and Andrea Bocelli in recordings. He also appeared in jazz festivals in Switzerland and the Caribbean.

In a recent interview for the University of Hartford’s Observer, Rozie mentioned that he “blazed his own trail in the classical music arena. The former member of the Kansas City Philharmonic and the Philharmonica de las Americas in Mexico recalls that ‘in 1968, when I was hired to play in the orchestra in Kansas City, I was the first musician of color to be hired. At that time there were almost no minorities and very few women in the major orchestras in the United States. I wasn’t the first person of color to play in the Hartford Symphony, but I was the first to become a principal player.’ ” [1]This fact leads to Rick’s fascinating genealogy; an ancestry traced to an eighteenth and nineteenth century slave, Joseph Antonio Emidy, with an unusual and touching history.


Joseph Antonio Emidy, was born in Guinea on the West Coast of Africa and sold into slavery to Portuguese traders as a young boy. His date of birth was simply recorded as 1775.[2] Portugal was one of the earliest European slave trading countries, but was relatively humane as a slaving nation. Most of their slaves were sent to work in Brazil. Once there, the Portuguese tried to convert the slaves to Christianity and integrate them into the social life of the colony. Blacks and whites mixed freely and slaves were provided small plots of land to cultivate and sell the produce.[3]

Emidy’s earliest history as a slave is unknown, but as a child he was likely assigned as someone’s personal attendant rather than a plantation laborer. The boy ultimately came to live in Lisbon with his owner. At the time it was fashionable in Portugal to have a few black household servants. One might presume that the young man went to Lisbon as part of some wealthy man’s retinue. While in Lisbon, his talent for music became apparent. His master allowed him to develop his natural talent, supplying him with a violin, a teacher and the opportunity for employment as a professional musician. After three or four years of study and countless hours of practice, in 1795 the twenty-year-old was admitted to the second violin section in the orchestra of the Lisbon Opera. This was a fine achievement for anyone of his age, but for an essentially under-educated African with a limited exposure to European culture, it was truly remarkable.

Emidy’s life would radically change, all because of a partly submerged rock off Cape Finisterre. The British 44–gun frigate Indefatigable, commanded by Captain Sir Edward Pellew, collided with a rock on 7 May 1795 while pursuing a French fleet during the Napoleonic War.[4] Badly damaged, the Indefatigable limped into the Tagus River and onto the Lisbon dockyards for repairs.

The following passage describes what happened next:

While thus employed [as violinist at the Lisbon opera], it happened that Sir Edward Pellew, in his frigate the Indefatigable, visited the Tagus, and with some of his officers, attended the Opera. They had long wanted for the frigate a good violin player, to furnish music for the sailors’ dancing in their evening leisure, a recreation highly favourable to the preservation of their good spirits and contentment. Sir Edward, observing the energy with which the young negro plied his violin in the orchestra, conceived the idea of impressing him for the service. He accordingly instructed one of his lieutenants to take two or three of the boat’s crew, then waiting to convey the officers on board, and watching the boy’s exit from the theatre, to kidnap him, violin and all, and take him off to the ship. This was done, and the next day the frigate sailed: so that all hope of his escape was vain.[5]

Emidy was no longer a Portuguese slave, but now unwillingly pressed into the British Navy. He was a lowly seaman who would never be allowed to go ashore for fear of escape. Exacerbating his situation, he did not speak English and was completely unfamiliar with shipboard life. Now as a sailor/musician he would play several shipboard roles: entertainment for the officers and the crew, a melody and rhythm for the sea chanteys (the crew’s rhythmic work songs), and finally music for dance. Although unusual today, men danced with each other for exercise and entertainment. Good musicians, like skilled cooks, were important assets to a ship away from shore for months at a time. As a landsman musician, he also labored as a deckhand — an especially dangerous job on a warship.

The muster book of 1 September 1795 listed Emidy as number 316 of the ship’s crew three of whom, including Emidy, were described as “Lisbon volunteers.” His rating was landsman, the lowest rank of sailors and his pay was16/6 shillings per month. For comparison, an ordinary seaman received 17/6 shillings per month and an able seaman was paid £1-2/6 shillings per month.

The lone black man, a slave and sailor serving against his will, stood on the deck of HMS Indefatigable. A violin cradled under his chin, he looked longingly at the land only a league distant across the water. It could have been a continent away. He then played a tune, a cheerful hornpipe so that his fellow crewmen might temporarily forget the monotony and drudgery of shipboard life.

Emidy’s life as an impressed black crewman was described as follows:

Poor Emidee [sic] was thus forced, against his will, to descend from the higher regions of music in which he delighted – Gluck, Haydn, Cimarosa, and Mozart, to desecrate his violin to hompipes, jigs, and reels, which he loathed and detested: and being, moreover, the only negro on board, he had to mess by himself, and was looked down upon as an inferior being – except when playing to the sailors, when he was of course in high favour. As the captain and officers judged, from his conduct and expressions, that he was intensely disgusted with his present mode of life, and would escape at the first possible opportunity, he was never permitted to set his foot on shore for seven long years! [Royal Navy records indicate that Emidy actually served for under four years], [He] was only released by Sir Edward Pellew’s being appointed to the command of a line-of-battle ship,L’Impetueux, when he was permitted to leave in the harbour of Falmouth, where he first landed, and remained, I believe, till the period of his death.[6]

On 1 March 1799 Pellew was transferred to become captain of the captured French ship, L’Impetueux. A change in command of a naval ship always led to a major reorganization of the crew. Some sailors followed a captain to his new command, but Emidy was discharged from his impressment on 28 February 1799 at Falmouth, Cornwall County England, and the homeport of the Indefatigable. He was now a free man as well.

In 1799, Cornwall’s cultural and social life was largely centered on the theater, assemblies and balls, and “harmonic societies” of amateur musicians. Truro and Falmouth, the Cornwall towns Emidy was most associated with, had small theatres and theater companies that presented contemporary melodramas and comedies, adaptations of the classic repertory, as well as comic operas and burlesques. A small band of instrumentalists played an important part in these presentations. Because of Emidy’s background and his diverse skills, he likely participated.

A resident of Falmouth, England, James Silk Buckingham, wished to study music. He thought “it a most agreeable recommendation in female society, of which I was always fond.”[7] He elected to take lessons on the flute, an instrument that he assumed would be easy to play, and was readily available and quite portable. After Emidy’s discharge from the Royal Navy, he earned part of his living as a music teacher in Falmouth. The African Negro had by this time earned a reputation as a proficient musician and fine violinist, a composer of some renown and a conductor of local English county concerts. His teaching versatility was extraordinary offering instruction in piano, violin, violoncello, clarinet and flute. Buckingham started his lessons and diligently practiced four hours a day. There are no records about how Buckingham’s flute playing affected his romancing the local ladies, but his close contact with his teacher did have one important and lasting result. Buckingham became very sympathetic to the plight of African slaves. Later in life as a Member of Parliament he was staunchly opposed to the slave trade and an ardent abolitionist.

There is no painting or physical description of the musician, but in Buckingham’s autobiography he candidly and somewhat cruelly wrote, “[Emidy] was one of the very ugliest negroes I ever remember to have seen, he had charms enough to fascinate” Jane Hutchengs (or Hutchins), the white daughter of a local tradesman.[8] They were married in 1802 and had eight children, five of whom were baptized at the Church of King Charles the Martyr in Falmouth before the family moved to Truro around 1815 where he continued to play his violin, teach and compose.

Seacoast towns such as Falmouth and Truro had a regular military or naval presence during the anxious Napoleonic War years. Candlelit theatres in the town halls or large rooms at local taverns or inns provided an assembly place, the principal focus for social life during that time. Assemblies often included officers and their families who called upon the militia bands to provide music for the balls. The highly popular balls were usually preceded by a concert and the principle source of music was from harmonic societies, amateurs who met for private recreation, but gave performances to invited audiences, generally closely associated with the assemblies. Emidy was one of the chief organizers of some of these harmonic societies.

Over approximately a quarter century Emidy built a wide following. The concerts preceding the balls frequently included Emidy and his students in an ensemble. They performed orchestral works by Haydn, Stamitz, Pleyel and Beethoven, as well as lesser figures of the contemporary scene such as Johann Paul Martini, Eichner and Gyrowetz. Throughout his career, Emidy continued to compose and introduce major works of his own in these provincial concerts. He advertised a wide range of musical employment enterprises in the Royal Cornwall Gazette on 3 December1825.  These included lessons for the violin, tenor and bass viol, regular guitar, and Spanish guitar, availability to provide music for balls and assemblies and services to tune harps, and buff, regulate and tune pianofortes.[9]

The locally highly regarded Emidy, an accomplished multifaceted musician, composer, teacher and concert leader, was musical leader in southwestern England. Attempting to advance his friend’s career, Buckingham contacted Johann Peter Salomon, the well-known musical impresario and arranger of Joseph Haydn’s music. Salomon was impressed by the samples of Emidy’s compositions and suggested that The African Negro come to London to give a concert of his works. Concerned that his color might be held against him, many in Cornwall debated about the wisdom of introducing him into London’s musical society. They finally advised him to not accept the invitation because of the risk of failure, a failure that might take him from the musical sphere in which he was making a comfortable livelihood.


The only known drawing of Joseph Emidy, A Musical Club in Truro, by an unknown artist.


Emidy remained in the Falmouth area where he continued to teach, organize concerts, found amateur harmonic societies and ascend to be named music director of the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra. His own chamber works, concertos and symphonies made him perhaps the most celebrated and influential musical figure in early nineteenth century Cornwall. Joseph Antonio Emidy died in Truro on 23 April 1835, an extremely talented but now a relatively unknown music history footnote. No known copies of his many compositions have been found.

His tombstone is in Kenwyn Churchyard.[10] The obituary in the 25 April 1835 inThe (Truro) Gazette stated: “His talents may be said to have ranked under the first order while his enthusiastic devotedness to science was rarely exceeded. As an orchestral composer his sinfonias may be mentioned as evincing not only deep musical research, but also those flights of genius which induce regret that his talents were not called into action in a more genial sphere than that in which he moved.”

Joseph Antonio Emidy had a grandson also named Joseph who revived the family’s musical heritage. He became the bandmaster with Howes’ Great London Circus and Sanger’s English Menagerie. James Anthony Bailey purchased the Howes’ Circus and, in turn, combined his show with the circus of Phineas T. Barnum. The Howes name was dropped when the circus became “Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth.” Joseph Emidy remained bandmaster throughout these two circus mergers.

Rozie’s British ancestors first immigrated to the United States late in the 19th century. His great grandmother Julia [Emidy] Julia Emidy, survived of the shipwrecked American bark Frances on Cape Cod, the aftermath of the fierce December 1873 gale.[11] Julia had inherited a talent for music and worked as a vocalist, eventually joined the Barnum and Bailey’s circus in Connecticut. She married the circus orchestra’s banjo player Charles Van Allen, a Mohegan Indian, in Windsor in 1882.[12] A daughter, Mary, married Peter Rozie of Bonevento, Italy. One of their grandsons is Edward R. Rozie junior.

One distinctive ancestor, a gifted multifaceted former slave Joseph Antonio Emidy, likely accounts for Rick’s musicianship. The Hartford symphony Orchestra and The Hartt School is fortunate to have the services of this talented musician, a modern “all American” of Guinean, English, Native American, and Italian lineage and a descendent of a talented black musician with such a distinctive background and unusual history.

Louis Arthur Norton

[1] University of Hartford Obsever, Spring 2013, 13.

[2] The life of Joseph Antonio Emidy is recounted in pages 165 through 169 of the autobiography of the British abolitionist/politician James Silk Buckingham.

[3] Portugal transported 178,000 African slaves to Brazil between 1780 and 1790, mostly from what is now Angola.

[4] The frigate at the time had been cut down (razeed) from a 64-gun ship. It was armed with 42-pounder carronades 24-pounder long guns.

[5] Buckingham, James Silk, Autobiography of James Silk Buckingham, (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855) Ibid., 167-168.

[6] Ibid., 168-169.

[7] Ibid., 165.

[8] Ibid., 169.

[9] Richard McGrady, “An African in Cornwall,” The Musical Times, vol. 127, no. 1726, (Nov., 1986), 621.

[10] The exact inscription on his gravestone reads:

HERE LIE DEPOSITED The mortal remains of Mr Jos:h Antonia Emidy Who departed this life, On the 23:rd of April 1835 AGED 60 YEARS

And sacred to whose memory This tribute of affection is erected By his surviving family.

He was native of PORTUGAL Which country he quit about forty years since and pursuing the Musical Profession, resided in Cornwall until the close of his earthly career.

Devoted to thy soul-inspiring strains, Sweet Music! Thee he hail’d his chief delight And with fond zeal that shunn’d nor toil nor pain His talent sear’d, and genius mark’d its flight In harmony he liv’d, in peace with all Took his departure from this world of woe, And here his rest, till the last Trumpet’s call, Shall ‘wake mankind to joys that endless flow.

[11] This event occurred at off Meadow Beach at North Truro, Massachusetts.

The 704-ton, 143-foot bark Frances was under the command of Captain William Kelley and was owned by D.D. Kelley of Boston. There are no surviving records of the passenger list or survivors. Reference: American Lloyd’s Register of American and Foreign shipping 1873-74.

[12] Van Allen’s circus banjo still survives as a family heirloom to this day.

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