Monday, July 09, 2012
I recently found this picture of the burial of "Queen Narelle" in 1895. She was the wife of Umbarra, leader of the Yuin tribe of aborigines in SE Australia. Three years later my grandmother, who grew up nearby hearing legends about her, decided to adopt her name "as a talisman". Molly Ryan (Callaghan) divorced and became Marie Narelle and went on to world fame as a soprano (The Queen of Irish Song). My father adopted her stage name and the rest, as they say, is history.
Umbarra, who lived on Merriman Island, was also known as King Merriman. He outlived his wife.
My grandmother died in England in 1941 after a successful international career that include nine years under contract recording with Thomas Edison.
I am proud of the fact that my grandmother was singing out against racism and injustice a hundred years ago. No wonder I wound up with a black woman's name.