Youngest sister (Emma Louise Hyers) is at the top right and older sister (Anna Madah Hyers), is at the bottom left.
The Hyers Sisters were important performers of musical theatre in northern California. They lived in Sacramento and started out as musical prodigies. Anna Madah was 12yrs and Emma Louise was 10yrs (although they were billed as ages 10 and 8) at their concert debut in 1867 at the Metropolitan Theatre in Sacramento. Their parents, Samuel B. Hyers and Annie E. Hyers (nee Cryer), had come west from fresh York. As singers themselves, they had 1st trained their daughters before sending them for instruction to a German professor, Hugo Frank, and then to the opera singer Josephine D’Ormy. Anna was a soprano; Emma a contralto and gifted comedienne noted for her character songs. They performed for several years in the San Francisco and Oakland areas before embarking on their 1st transcontinental tour in 1871, under their father’s management. For their east coast performances, including an appearance at the Steinway Hall in fresh York, Samuel Hyers engaged the services of Wallace King, tenor and John Luca, baritone. Mr. A.C. Taylor pianist of San Francisco, traveled with the sisters as accompanist.
Early in their repertoire the sisters had included ‘dialogues in character’ and were said to possess ‘great dramatic ability.’ It was no surprise, when on March 26, 1876 at the Academy of Music in Lynn, Massachusetts, they presented a musical drama entitled, ‘Out of the Wilderness,’ which had been written for them by Joseph Bradford of Boston. For this show the quartet of singers was joined by Sam Lucas, a sometime minstrel actor slated to become a veteran comedian of the African American stage. Billed as the Hyers Sisters Combination, the troupe toured their show to fresh England towns, playing mostly one-night stands. In June the play’s title was changed to ‘Out of Bondage.’ It was a simple tale of a slave family before and the Civil War. Four younger slaves go North as older folk hold back when Union troops arrive to liberate the South. In the end the family is reunited as the elders, who had stayed behind, visit their children, who have become professional vocalists.
In 1883 the sisters decided to leave their father’s management. Their parents had long been estranged, mother Annie Hyers having moved away from the family home in Sacramento, 1st to San Francisco then to Stockton. The breach with their father came in 1881 when he admitted into the company a young woman, ‘little more than a teenager,’ named Mary C Reynolds, whom he married two years later. He was then 53. Reynolds, billed as Mrs. May Hyers, was also a contralto and competed with Emma Louise (her stepdaughter) for roles. As the situation became untenable and likely to generate controversy, the sisters felt it incumbent on them to leave.
At ages 17 and 19, they chose to be on their own. The sisters found fresh engagements for their combination of vocalists, at times in league with other managements, at other times contributing special items in companies of so called minstrels. Both sisters entered 1st marriages in 1883: Anna Madah to cornet player Henderson Smith and Emma Louise to bandleader George Freeman. The latter marriage took place in full view of the audience on the stage of the Baldwin Theatre in San Francisco during a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Callender’s Minstrels.
By the start of the 1890s the sisters had been performing professionally for more than twenty years and had won recognition and respect for their talents and skills.
A History of African American Theatre by Errol G Hill and James V Hatch, Blacks in Blackface by Henry T Sampson
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