Nadine Roberts Waters
Highly-Acclaimed Concert Soprano who Broke Color Barriers Worldwide
Ella Nadine Roberts was born on 16 Feb 1892 and grew up in a musical family in Wyoming, Ohio. She said that her father purchased their house in Glendale and had it dismantled piece by piece and rebuilt in Wyoming. She attended Wyoming Public Schools.
Roberts' love of music first developed while singing in the Maple Street Christian Church at 620 Maple Street, established in 1871 in neighboring Lockland. The church she attended, which still stands, was constructed in 1888 and built with funding from her grandparents.
Her parents were well known in the community, members of several charitable institutions, and musically active. Martin Van Roberts, her father, was a bass singer in the church choir and was the first Black supervisor of the US Postal Service in Cincinnati. The Roberts house was built at 627 Vine St. in Wyoming, but the street name was changed to Van Roberts Place in honor of Nadine’s father in 1981 by a petition of loving neighbors, which was unanimously passed by the City Council.
Nadine married widower Frank C. Waters, a print shop engraver, in 1915, and they moved into a home a block away from her parents. They adopted a daughter, Inez Vivian, within a few years. She was listed as 4 years old in the 1920 census; sadly, she died at a young age around 1924. The couple divorced in 1938.
In the 1920s, Nadine changed the spelling of her name to Nadyne and began regularly traveling back and forth between Cincinnati and Boston to complete a total of 13 semesters of classes at the New England Conservatory of Music, from 1922 to 1929 (except for 1928). While studying in Boston, she gave numerous recitals, including an occasional appearance of ‘little Inez’ accompanying her as an elocutionist.
In 1928, Nadine Roberts Waters debuted in Cincinnati’s largest concert venue, Springer Auditorium (3,526 seats), during the Cincinnati Music Hall Golden Jubilee and Greater Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the building’s opening and remodel of the north and south wings.
She traveled to Paris where she felt accepted and valued as an artist and took lessons with the most distinguished music instructors, meeting and performing with famous composers, singers, and pianists. She built the kind of confidence and virtuosity to sing in world-class concert halls and salons before large crowds in Boston, New York, Paris, and London, as well as dignitaries, socialites, and royalty.
She performed frequently with the Pasdeloup Orchestra, Paris’s oldest orchestra, and worked with some of the most esteemed musicians there: Albert Roussel, composer, pianist; Maurice Imbert, pianist, composer; Georges Migot, pianist; and composers Gabriel Grovlez and Henri Tomasi. In 1931, Tomasi dedicated the aria la chanson des sables (The Song of the Sands) from his suite Tam Tam to Nadine Waters, and she sang it in several concerts. She was praised by colleagues like tenor, Louis Charles Battaille, and the legendary Nadia Boulanger in personal letters.
In 1954, Nadine Waters would appear for her second time as a soloist on the Music Hall stage for the Second Annual Benefit Concert of the Negro Sightless Society of Ohio (an organization founded by Cincinnati native Jesse D. Locker, who also served 6 terms in the Cincinnati City Council until he was named Ambassador to Liberia). With Councilman Theodore M. Berry as treasurer, this concert was to raise money to fund major repairs and updates needed on the home for the blind located at 932 Dayton St. in the West End. Leading the concert was George H. Colin, Music Director of the Cincinnati National Association for the Advancement of Colored People-NAACP, with a chorus of 350 singers, representing many Cincinnati church choirs.