Jazz Heritage Wales Research

Jazz Heritage Wales first started in 1986 and has become the oldest and only multi media jazz archive and Special collection in the UK.

An iterative action research model was adopted from the start, involving collecting information, using it in education and performance, in turn generating Collection items, and media interest, continuing the ongoing process.

Honorary Professor Jen Wilson

  • The Collection started with 19 oral histories of women jazz artists, many of which have not yet been studied. Catalogued papers of these early years can be found in the National Library of Wales.
  • In 2020, the British Library Sound Archive features Jen talking about her interview of Kathy Stobart, saxophonist and bandleader
  • Upcoming; the oral history of Ottilie Patterson will feature in a brand-new film being made of her life by Double Band Films.
  • 2021 at Documenting Jazz in Edinburgh, (online) Jen delivered her talk on Blanche Finlay, Musician and Activist, which can be found here BLANCHE FINLAY DOCJAZZ. The video clip in the Blanche Finlay presentation is on are YouTube Blanche Finlay Clip.
  • Honorary Professor Jen Wilson contributed to the award-winning Lost Women of British Jazz which gives an overview of the story.
  • Freedom Music. Wales, Emancipation and Jazz 1850-1950.  Jen Wilson Freedom Music. Wales, Emancipation and Jazz 1850-1950. Jen WilsonThis book reclaims for Wales the history and culture of a music that eventually emerged as jazz in the 1920s, its tendrils and roots extending back to slave songs and abolition campaign songs, and Swansea’s long-forgotten connection with Cincinnati, Ohio. The main themes of the book are to illustrate and emphasise the strong links between emerging African American music in the USA and the development of jazz in mainstream popular culture in Wales; the emancipation and contribution of Welsh women to the music and its social-cultural heritage; and an historical appraisal as the music journeyed towards the Second World War and into living memory. The jazz story is set amid the politics, socio-cultural and feminist history of the time from whence the music emerged – which begs the question ‘When Was Jazz?’ (To echo Gwyn A. Williams in 1985, who asked ‘When Was Wales?’). If jazz is described as ‘the music of protest and rebellion’, then there was certainly plenty going on during the jazz age in Wales. It can be obtained from all good bookshops, and is published by University of Wales Press, 2019.

Swansea Stories “A Dream Shared”

The film below shows the relevance of these stories to us today in Swansea.

It includes Jessie Donaldson’s story, Willis an escaped slave, who stowed away and landed here, Swansea people campaigning to end slavery, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a touring choir of freed slaves.

It also features Carl Westmoreland, Senior Historian of the National Underground Freedom Center, Cincinnati, talking about the slave pen in the museum, and buying and selling black people.

Cincinnati and the Ohio River was on the border between the South and North of the USA. Jessie became part of this Underground Rail Road helping escaping slaves.

Jessie Donaldson

Swansea woman Jessie Donaldson who bravely fought slavery in America around 170 years ago was honoured by her home city on March 25, 2021 on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

A blue plaque has been installed outside the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s (UWTSD) Dynevor building in the city centre to celebrate the actions of the campaigner.

Jessie Donaldson

Jessie Donaldson ran a school from 1829 for Young Girls and Boys in Wind Street. She also belonged to the Swansea Anti-Slavery Society, the largest and most committed society in Wales. In 1854 Jessie, aged 57, emigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband. Her home, Clermont, on the banks of the Ohio River, becomes the third of the Donaldson Welsh safe houses and part of the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing the plantations across the river.

She becomes friends with prominent abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ellen and William Craft, and William Lloyd Garrison.  Jessie returns home to Swansea after the end of the war and lives to see the arrival in Swansea of the Fisk Jubilee Singers from Fisk University, Nashville in 1874, the first choir of freed slaves to perform on the concert hall stage. Jessie Donaldson was involved in international politics which are still resonating today, a true pioneer.

More Information

To find out more about Jessie, please visit the History Points Website.