Ella <I>Sheppard</I> Moore

Ella Sheppard Moore

Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, USA
Death 9 Jun 1914 (aged 63)
Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, USA
Burial Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, USA
Plot Section 28.9, ID# 280007
Memorial ID 47596963 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Social reformer, pianist, educator. Matriarch of the Fisk Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, TN. She also was a confidante of Frederick Douglass, and one of the most distinguished African American women of her generation. She was born a slave on Andrew Jackson's Hermitage plantation. A biracial relation of Jackson's family, her father Simon Sheppard had purchased his freedom by hiring himself out as a Nashville liveryman and hack driver. When she was a little girl, her slave mother Sarah threatened to drown her and herself if their owners refused to permit her and her husband to purchase her freedom. But an elderly slave prevented her, predicting that "the Lord would have need of that child." Her owners refused to release Sarah, but allowed her to go with her father, who soon remarried and, fearful he and his daughter might be re enslaved, fled penniless to Cincinnati. A German woman taught her at a young age to play the piano. She also managed to persuade an eminent white vocal teacher to give her twelve lessons, provided she keep them a secret and arrive and depart at night by the back door. After her father's death from cholera, she supported herself, her stepmother, and her half sister Rosa by teaching at a school for former slaves. Managing to save about six dollars in five months, she proceeded to Nashville in 1868 to enroll at the Fisk Free Colored School (now Fisk University). Her skill as a pianist immediately drew the attention of Fisk treasurer and musician George White, who appointed her his choir's accompanist and assistant choral director as he prepared his group for a tour of the North. She and the group of nine singers set out on October 6, 1871 to raise funds to save the school. Though frail and sickly, she valiantly remained with the group for seven years. After seven years, the Singers had raised $150,000 and brought the cause of Black education to the attention of millions. She accompanied the choir on piano, oversaw many of their rehearsals, conducted the Jubilees from her position among the singers on stage, and continued to collect and transcribe spirituals until the groups repertoire numbered over a hundred. When, in 1878, an exhausted and exasperated White finally resigned as director, she stood in for him for the groups last months. She joined White's subsequent group of Jubilees but retired from Jubilee work when he disbanded his group in 1882. Sheppard built a house for her mother and half sister in Nashville, and married one of the most prominent black ministers in the United States, Rev. George Washington Moore. The couple lived at first in Washington, DC. She spent many years helping her husband in his work with the American Missionary Association, lecturing throughout the South, and organizing Jubilee choirs. Returning to Fisk, she trained and inspired generations of Jubilees, and by the time of her death, she had become in intellect, in spirit, and in musical attainment one of the truly gifted women of the world.

Family Members


Sponsored by Ancestry


Planning a visit to Nashville City Cemetery?



  • Created by: Curtis Jackson
  • Added: 4 Feb 2010
  • Find A Grave Memorial 47596963
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Ella Sheppard Moore (4 Feb 1851–9 Jun 1914), Find A Grave Memorial no. 47596963, citing Nashville City Cemetery, Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, USA ; Maintained by Curtis Jackson (contributor 46552524) .