85 Years Later, Famous Providence Singer Gets Gravestone

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – When it comes to famous Providence residents, the name H.P. Lovecraft comes to most minds.  But, it turns out, Providence has another historical claim to fame.  Sissieretta Jones was an international sensation, one of the most well-known singers of her time.  A local organization is working to rekindle the legacy of a star forgotten by so many, her grave has gone unmarked for 85 years.

Stages of Freedom Executive Director Ray Rickman says, "She is really the Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross of her time.  The first famous black female singer in America – which really means the world."

Jones, also known as Black Patti, was born in Virginia in 1868, but she spent most of her life in Providence, and that’s where she made a name for herself.

Rickman says, "She performs for four presidents of the United States."

Jones performed around the world, gaining fame and fortune.  But, once she stopped working, her savings dwindled.

Rickman says, "She is never broke.  She just didn’t have any money left over for a gravestone."

Rickman has been following Jones’s life for the past 35 years.

Rickman says, "That whole time, we’ve been looking for her grave at Grace Cemetery.  Accidentally, we found it two years ago."

For the last 85 years, her grave was unmarked until a GoFundMe campaign earlier this year gave them the money they needed to put up a gravestone for Jones and her mother.  It will be officially unveiled this weekend, alongside a slew of events honoring her life the way Rickman feels it should have been honored.

Rickman says, "The gravestone will take your breath away.  And that’s for Sissieretta."

You can find more information about this weekend’s events, and Stages of Freedom, at their website: stagesoffreedom.org

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