January 26, 1955: Death of Duluth choral director Ann Colby Albright

On this day in Duluth in 1955, Ann Colby Albright—Duluth’s best-known and much-loved choral director—died at age 56. She was born Ann Colby in 1899 in Duluth to Charles and Laura Colby. Charles was born a slave in Lewisburg, Virginia, and eventually became a private chef for the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railroad. According to biographer Heidi Bakk-Hansen, “Ann was musically inclined at an early age. She asked for and received violin lessons at the age of three, and her parents bought her a piano when she was nine.” Her education culminated with her graduation from the Duluth Teacher’s College as teacher of both art and mathematics, but due to her race she could not find work in her field. In 1929 Ann married Joseph Albright. During the Depression she found a job through the Work Projects Administration as the director of a woman’s chorus made up of Croatian immigrants living in the Duluth neighborhood of Gary. This was the start of a long career of directing choral groups. Three years before she died, the Duluth News Tribune published this description of her: “Day by day she has brought to many her love and knowledge of music; day by day too, she has worked quietly, persistently, courageously for the furtherance of understanding among the different races. To each, her profession and her avocation, she brings a personality filled with warmth and enthusiasm, which is the delight of all who work with her.” In her obituary, a leader of one of her choruses was quoted as saying, “Mrs. Albright did more to break down barriers between people than any person I have ever known. Because of her, we have not only talked brotherhood, we have lived it.” There’s much more to Albright’ life, and you can Bakk-Hansen’s account of it here.

Albright and the Irving Mothersingers on the road in 1951. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)