Artist Says Patti Malone Portrait Will Allow The Slave-Turned-Singer To Inspire Generations

By: Holly Hollman
An oil portrait of Patti Malone will grace the original stone fireplace of Scout Music House as a tribute to the woman who went from a young slave to international singer.

Athens Art League announced Monday, April 16, that artist Ann Moeller Steverson of Madison received the commission to paint Malone’s portrait. Athens Arts League received a $4,500 grant from Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area to commission the portrait.
“As a female artist myself, I am aware on a personal level of how often women are overlooked or forgotten by history,” Steverson said. “In Alabama, I think it is even more important to make sure the vital contributions of minority women are highlighted as they have done so much to enrich our history.”

Steverson said she wants Malone’s portrait to be a “continual inspiration and to uplift people.”

“As an artist I am always interested in capturing the spirit of the person and also a universally uplifting part of us all,” she said.
Steverson will paint Malone’s portrait on copper, popular among Renaissance artists. Steverson is the inventor of Venus Copper Panels, a product she created after trial and error. Steverson said painting on copper panels brings unique beauty to art. There is no sinking in of paint and color, which allows light to travel through the paint and reflect back from the surface, creating a luminous quality to the work. Unlike white surfaces, the beautiful tone of the copper enhances the painting and adds warmth and unity to each work.
Athens Arts League plans to unveil the portrait in November with a public reception.

“The rainy weather has delayed our outside renovation efforts, but our goal remains to open Scout Music House in November,” said Scout Music House Committee Chair Holly Hollman.

The City of Athens is leasing the 1938-era building to Athens Arts League with the challenge of raising funds to renovate and re-purpose the structure into a music venue with music-related hands-on programs for students and cultural events for the community. The project also includes honoring Limestone County’s musical heritage by hosting exhibits that honor those like Malone who had a significant impact in music.

According to local historian Charlotte Fulton, Malone was born between 1855 and 1859 as a slave at The Cedars Plantation in Athens. After the Civil War, Malone attended Trinity School, which opened to educate former slaves. Malone did not graduate but instead, when on to Fisk University in Nashville to further her music education. In 1877, Malone joined the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the middle of a two-year tour, replacing another singer who became ill. Her first performance was in Hamburg, Germany, in 1878. She continued singing spirituals with them until her death in 1897. That included a six-and-a-half year, around-the-world tour with the reorganized group known as Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers.

“Patti sang before the crown heads of Europe,” Hollman said. “She was born a slave, essentially a woman without a voice, and she became a woman whose voice everyone wanted to hear.”

Following Malone’s death, the chorus director characterized her as strong, determined and dependable. He said although she had been in frail health, she was always onstage, performing to the best of her ability. Another writer said her strength was not as a solo singer, but she stood out in the chorus.

Malone received many accolades from newspapers of the cities in which she appeared, yet eulogies appearing in papers around the world after her death described her as modest, demure and unassuming.

Here are some of the qualities noted in those eulogies:
· Genuine worth.
· True womanliness.
· Lady-like deportment in public and in private.
· Sweet disposition, intelligence, and plain, unassuming gentleness.
· Reflection of good rearing and good sense.
· Rich mezzo soprano voice full of the most tender pathos and sympathy.
· High morals and sterling character.

Throughout her singing career, Malone maintained close contact with her Athens roots, often returning for Trinity’s graduation exercises, during which she sang some of the jubilee songs. In 1884 she brought property in Athens and built a home she called The Oaks. Her mother, Mahala, and her sister, Emma, lived there, and Malone returned there as often as her schedule allowed. At the Oaks, Malone entertained the elite of city’s African-American community.

At her death, Malone’s body was returned to Athens and buried in the Hine-Hobbs Cemetery.

“I have talked to several youth who have an interest in the music industry from performing to songwriting to producing,” Hollman said. “Stories like Patti’s live on to give these students the encouragement to work hard in pursuit of their dreams.”

About Ann Moeller Steverson
Home: Madison, Ala.

Education: Undergraduate arts study at the University of Montevallo; Bachelor of arts with a fine arts concentration, University of Alabama at Huntsville; Education master of arts, Alabama A&M University.
Work Experience: Inventor and owner of Venus Copper Panels, co-owner of Protégé Atelier, and adjunct professor at Athens State University
Honors: Featured artist spotlight in Professional Artist Magazine, June/July 2017 issue; Select 50 International Competition, Portrait Society of America, 2018; and various exhibits and competitions throughout the country.

About Athens Arts League
Athens Arts League is a non-profit organization with a mission to support artists, provide art education, and bring cultural events to Athens and Limestone County, Ala.

About Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area
The Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area (MSNHA), hosted by the University of North Alabama with offices in Florence, was officially designated by Congress in 2009. The MSNHA spans the six counties of North Alabama’s Tennessee River water basin and was developed to help preserve the history of this region by focusing on three main themes: music, Native American heritage, and the Tennessee River.
By: Holly Hollman