WACO, Texas (KWTX) He had a voice that could send waves through the soul.
Julius "Jules" Bledsoe was a pioneer in American music.
He was born in Waco in 1897.
Historians say he loved to sing and had a natural talent for it.
His first public performance was at the of age 5 at his grandfather's church New Hope Baptist.
Bledsoe graduated as valedictorian of Central Texas Academy, a school founded by black Baptists to ensure African Americans children received an education.
He went to Bishop College to study liberal arts and music and graduated magna cum laude.
He also studied medicine at Columbia University, but his life changed after taking voice lessons and moving to Manhattan.
Bledsoe's first leading role was in an opera in 1926 where he played Tizan in "Deep River."
He is best known for his interpretation of the song "Ol' Man River" in the musical "Showboat" which became an American classic.
He later starred in the musical's film production.
In 1943, Bledsoe set out on tour to promote the sale of war bonds.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was part of that trip.
Bledsoe's achievements were significant since racial discrimination and segregation of African Americans prevented many of them from performing with major opera companies.
He died tragically while on tour in Los Angeles that same year of a cerebral hemorrhage.