James A. Bland, perhaps the greatest African-American folksong writer, was born in 1854 in Flushing, New York. His father, who received a law degree from Howard University, was the first African American appointed examiner to the United States Patent Office. Bland grew up in Philadelphia, and started performing music professionally by the age of fourteen and writing songs by the age of fifteen. He performed for President Cleveland and Robert E. Lee, and was paid $10,000 a year in Jack Harvey’s minstrel troupe—the highest salary awarded to a minstrel performer. Bland died of tuberculosis on May 6, 1911.
Messerli, Douglas. Listen to the Mockingbird: American Folksongs and Popular Music Lyrics of the 19th Century (Los Angeles, CA: Green Integer, 2006).