An Athens arts organization is working to commemorate the story of Patti Malone, who was born a slave in Athens, pursued an education and joined an internationally acclaimed chorale group.
Athens Arts League received approval for a $4,500 grant from the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area to commission an oil painting of Malone, who died in the late 1800s while traveling with the Loudin Jubilee Singers. There are few photographs of Malone, and the painting will provide a commemorative piece to help share her story.
“I think of her as the First Lady of Music in Limestone County,” said Athens Arts League Board Vice President Diane Lehr, who wrote the grant. “She has an amazing story that can inspire new generations of musicians.”
Once complete, the oil painting of Malone will be on display at Scout Music House, which Athens Arts League is raising money to renovate into a music venue. The structure on Washington Street once served as a recreational facility for Boy and Girl Scouts and then the Athens City Schools Central Office, but has been vacant for about five years. The City of Athens owns the circa-1938 structure and leases it to Athens Arts League.
The Scout Music House venue will provide hands-on opportunities for students to explore various aspects of music from performance to recording to marketing as well as cultural events for the community and exhibits to honor Limestone County’s musical heritage. Malone’s portrait will be on permanent display.
Athens Arts League Promotions Chair Holly Hollman said the League is collaborating with the Athens-Limestone Community Association on the portrait. ALCA, which oversees the historic Trinity site, will appoint a committee to review artists’ renderings and select an artist to create the oil painting.
“Patti Malone is an integral part of Trinity’s history, and we want the association to be pleased with her portrait,” Hollman said.
Athens State University art professor and Athens Arts League Board member Gail Bergeron and her students will assist with final approval of the finished portrait and document its historical significance. Athens Arts League will schedule an unveiling once the portrait is complete.
Malone’s story starts on The Cedars Plantation in Athens where she was born into slavery, according to the 2000 Nashville Conference publication Leaders of Afro-American Nashville. Her mother arranged with their former master for Malone to go to school at Trinity, which educated former slaves after the Civil War. The principal Mary Wells befriended Malone and sent her to further her education at Fisk University in Nashville.
Malone made her debut with the Jubilee Singers in Hamburg, Germany, in 1878, the publication stated. When the singers disbanded, Frederic Loudin organized the Loudin Jubilee Singers, and Malone toured with them in Europe and Australia. She bought property in Athens in the Village View area and named her home The Oaks. According to the publication, while Malone was on tour with the Singers in the United States, she fell ill and died in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1897. She is buried in Athens.
Malone spent about 20 years as a Jubilee Singer. According to the publication, her legacy is "one of good deeds, an unsurpassed soprano voice, and a touring agenda that included visits to 17 countries and appearances before six crown heads of Europe."
“Athens Arts League appreciates the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area for supporting our project and having a commitment to the arts and culture of our community,” Hollman said.