𝗘𝗟𝗟𝗔 𝗦𝗛𝗘𝗣𝗣𝗔𝗥𝗗 (1851-1915)
Ella Shepard, soprano, pianist and reformer, was the matriarch of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and also a confidante of Frederick Douglass. She was born a slave in 1851 on Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage plantation and was a biracial relation of Jackson’s family.
When her father moved to Ohio, a German woman taught her to play piano and Ella persuaded an eminent white vocal teacher to give her twelve lessons, provided she keep them a secret and arrive and depart at night by the back door. After her father’s death from cholera, Ella supported herself, her stepmother, and sister by teaching at a school for former slaves. Managing to save about six dollars in five months, she proceeded to Nashville in 1868 to enroll at the Fisk Free Colored School. Because of her piano skills, she was appointed as the choir’s accompanist and assistant choral director. Though frail and sickly, Sheppard remained with the choir troupe for seven years.
Sheppard built a house for her mother and half sister in Nashville, and married one of the most prominent black ministers in the United States, Rev. George Washington Moore. They lived at first in Washington, DC, fighting against the saloons in their neighborhood until it had been transformed into one of the most desirable areas of the city.