Mississippi's vocational Utica Normal & Industrial Institute for the Training of Colored Young Men and Women was founded in 1903 by Dr. William Henry Holtzclaw, the son of emancipated slaves. Following the example of Fisk University, Utica's own Jubilee-styled vocal group was sent on a tour of Northern cities to raise funds for the institute. The first commercially distributed recordings of a Utica Jubilee group were cut nearly a quarter century later by a unit that had been together for about a year. Managed by European-American faculty member C.W. Hynes, they operated under the direction of African-American tailoring instructor Charles R. Lawrence. This superb vocal harmony group was anchored by ex-blacksmith and bass singer William G. Culver and baritone George Withington. Its three tenors were Marshall Cole, who studied tailoring under Lawrence, Clarence E. Radcliffe, and Ben E. Skinner. Piano accompaniments were provided by Norma Lynch, who sometimes sang with the group and eventually married Cole.
During a period beginning in March 1927 and lasting a little over two years, the Uticas cut some 18 sides, both sacred and secular, for the Victor record label. By this time they were also performing regularly over radio station WJZ in New York, and would be heard from coast to coast on NBC's Blue Network for several years. In a thrilling example of living history, one special guest on their program was Stephen Foster's daughter Marian Foster Welch. The group's success in broadcasting led to its appearance in the Vitaphone film short Radi-ators. They are known to have worked with various evangelists, including England's own Rodney "Gipsy" Smith. The Uticas toured Europe twice, in 1927 and 1930. On the second tour they visited Scandinavia and the Balkans, at one point sharing the bill with Valaida Snow in Louis Douglas' Black Flowers Revue. A printed compendium of Utica Jubilee Singers spirituals was published in 1930 with transcriptions executed by J. Rosamund Johnson. Formed in 1926, the group whose recordings were reissued by Document in the late '90s stayed together until 1939. In 1983 an elderly Marshall Cole appeared in Woody Allen's fictional documentary film Zelig. ~ arwulf arwulf