All About Richland, History & Tourism

When Mansfield Welcomed: America’s First Matinee Idol

6 Oct , 2021  

By 1812Blockhouse

It’s a name you may not have seen before until reading this post.

The man was, however, a remarkable artist with a penchant for showmanship that transformed him into an international superstar — a superstar whose travels and concert venues included a very young Mansfield, Ohio.

An obscure reference in the Cleveland Daily Leader references the appearance of famed composer and pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk to Mansfield in December of 1863, in the middle of the US Civil War.

Gottschalk could be said to be the first composer to be referred to as “American” that became popular in other countries. In fact, most of his working career was spent outside of the United States. He became a sensation in Europe and South America, not only for his compositions but for his virtuoso piano playing.

The composer was born in New Orleans in 1829 to a white father and a French Creole mother. The influence of Creole and Latin American musical traditions crept into Gottschalk’s classical compositions; he is said to be the first to include slave melodies into mainstream concert fare.

His best known piano work was “Bamboula.”

In Mansfield, as in Cleveland on the previous stop of his tour, Gottschalk was paired with Italian tenor Pasquale Brignoli. Poet Walt Whitman admired Brignoli “…for his “perfect singing voice” with its “tremulous, manly timbre.”

Where he performed locally is not known, but there is a good chance that it was at “Sturges and Bigelow’s Hall,” where other large concerts were held. If this is correct, there is a rather amazing chance that Gottshalk’s concert venue still stands on the third floor of the “rear” building for the former H.L. Reed store (now Dan Lew Exchange).

Bamboula can be listened to in the video below. It was most likely part of what Civil War-era Mansfielders heard that day.

Gottschalk died just six years after his Mansfield concert at the age of 40. His unique place in American musical history has been renewed and his works remain popular.

Sources: Cleveland Daily Leader; Wikipedia; Britannica Online

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