Richard Jose

Courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society.

Richard Jose, "The Singing Blacksmith" of Nevada, became one of the first international recording stars. His immense 250 pound frame supported an unusually strong, high-pitched voice. Jose emigrated from Cornwall as a child.

Richard Jose was born in Cornwall in 1862. After his father died in 1876, Jose came to Nevada searching for his uncle. As an adult, Jose claimed a birth date of 1869, promoting the story of a mere child traveling alone to the American West. He also changed the pronunciation of his name, and hence his ethnicity. Jose, pronounced like "Joe's" and rhyming with "rose," is Cornish. Later in life, he added an accent, as in José (pronounced hoh-zay), to affect an exotic Hispanic heritage.

Arriving in Virginia City, young Jose sang in saloons for charity. His brilliant, high-pitched voice made him seem younger than he actually was. He then drove a bakery wagon in Carson City and worked as a blacksmith in Reno, all the while performing locally as "The Singing Blacksmith." Jose was a counter or alto tenor with spectacular tone and range.

In 1884, Jose joined a minstrel troupe in California, eventually appearing in New York. By the 1890s, his fame brought him to international stages. With hundreds of performances, Jose popularized dozens of sentimental ballads. He often returned to Nevada to be received as a hometown talent.

Between 1903 and 1906, Jose recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company. His "Silver Threads Among the Gold" was the most famous of his many hits, making him one of the first recording stars. His records remained best sellers into the early 1920s.

By the 1920s, Jose's high-pitched voice fell from fashion. He ended his singing career and became the California Deputy Real Estate Commissioner, dying in 1941. Throughout his professional life, Jose made the story of his youth, singing in Virginia City's saloons, central to his legend.

Further Reading

Tim Gracyk and Frank Hoffmann. Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925. New York, NY: Haworth Press, 2000.
Phillip I. Earl. This Was Nevada. Reno, NV: Nevada Historical Society, 1986.

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