DOCUMENTS just discovered in the North Yorkshire County Record Office in time for Black History Month show how a trio of singers came to Bedale raising funds for a university attended by freed slaves.

They were the Fisk Jubilee Singers who appeared at the Assembly Rooms on two occasions before the First World War.

The a capella singers were raising money for Fisk University in Nashville, which had been founded in 1866 just after the end of the American Civil War to educate freed slaves.

The singing group, which is credited with popularising slave songs and especially spirituals, began touring in 1871, and went through many changes of line-up before a “famous trio” of singers came to Bedale on October 28, 1910, as guests of the Bedale Literary and Debating Society.

This trio was Miss Euna M Mocara (soprano), Miss Laura A Carr (contralto), and Mr Eugene M McAdoo (bass).

The society’s minutes, which are housed among the record office’s five miles of documents dating back to the 12th Century, say: “The Revd. Father Lewis presided, and introduced the Trio to a good audience on their first visit to Bedale. The Concert consisted of Choruses, Trios, & Songs by the ladies, also Duets. Every item was well received, & splendidly rendered. The programme, which was an excellent one, was only slightly departed from. The audience seemed delighted with the Concert.”

So delighted, in fact, that the trio returned 18 months later, on March 22, 1912, and a handbill advertising the concert has been discovered in the archive.

“This was the second visit of the Trio & a very large & appreciative audience gave them an excellent reception,” say the society minutes.

Perhaps when the trio was in North Yorkshire they looked up Thomas Rutling in Harrogate. Rutling was one of the founder members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, having been freed from slavery in Tennessee when he was 11 years old. Such was the success of the original singers, who even impressed Queen Victoria, that Rutling remained in Europe, touring as “the African Tenor”.

He settled in Harrogate in 1905 where he worked as a voice teacher until he died, aged 60, in 1915.

His entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography concludes: “He was remembered with affection, and his impact on wider British society was significant: his singing, his eloquence, and his diplomatic role as a representative of Afro-Americans matched those of his best friend in the Jubilee Singers, Isaac Dickerson, who had died prematurely in London in 1900.”

The Record Office can be contacted at or on 01609 777585.