Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fulton Fryar’s Closet At Seagle Music Colony

Fulton's room exteriorBack in 1957 John Seagle invited a young singer to his training program, the Seagle Music Colony. The young singer’s name was Fulton Fryar and this is significant because Fulton was the first African-American to come to the Colony. This was several years before the Civil Rights Movement would win its hard-earned victories in Congress and at this time much of America was still segregated, but John thought him talented and wanted him to come study at Seagle Music Colony.

John’s solution to accommodate Fulton for his stay in Schroon Lake was to have a small bedroom built on the side of the laundry building. Fulton sang in all the shows that summer, sang in the vesper and town concerts, and other than sleeping separately, lived a regular colony life.

It was soon discovered that in addition to singing, Fulton was a talented visual artist as well. On the walls of his room, which he called “The Closet” are lines from “Crossing the Bar” by Tennyson poem and some Bible verses and on the door a painting that says “Always Welcome to the Closet – the home of Fulton Fryar”. Fulton returned to Seagle Music Colony the next summer as well and in addition to singing he helped build scenery too.

Fulton's DoorThe Seagle Music Colony is now much as it was in the time of Fulton. It is the oldest and best summer training program in the United States. Each summer thirty-two singers are selected from hundreds of applicants to come here and study and train and put on productions of operas and musicals for the people of upstate New York.

I did not know of the room’s existence until Director of Production, Richard Kagey relayed a story about it about seven years ago. What I had assumed was a closed storage room on the side of the now, dilapidated laundry, was this magical room. Since that time, several people who knew of it wanted to save it, but we had no way to store it and the building was falling down. In fact it was scheduled for demolition this fall. We did not know what to do other than take pictures and keep the story alive.

This summer a friend of mine, Jonathan Green, came to visit me and I showed him the room and told him the story of Fulton Fryer. Jonathan took pictures of the room (which we now call “The Closet” since that is what Fulton dubbed it so long ago). Jonathan became obsessed with saving this little room and bit of African-American history in the Adirondacks. He contacted Steven Englehart with Adirondack Architectural Heritage who then sent the pictures to Laura Rice at the Adirondack Experience (formerly the Adirondack Museum). After some examination, the Adirondack Experience has decided to remove The Closet and move it to Blue Mountain Lake, restore it and then it will become an exhibit at the museum, thereby preserving an important moment in Seagle Music Colony history and giving visitors a glimpse into the African-American experience in the mid 1950s.

Another small miracle has also happened. Jonathan found Fulton! He is 76 and lives with his wife near Philadelphia. The Museum and Seagle Music Colony are bringing Fulton back to the Adirondacks to see his room, to make some video memories of his time here which will be part of the Adirondack Experience’s exhibit as well as Seagle’s.

When I spoke to Fulton about saving The Closet and his summers here, he said they were the happiest two summers of his life. He said “I never thought anyone would remember me or The Closet”.  I said, “The irony is that now you will be remembered forever.”

Photos of Friars closet, courtesy Jonathan Green.


Darren Woods

Darren K. Woods is currently the Artistic Director of Seagle Music Colony, the country’s oldest and most prestigious singer training program and also of the newly formed American Center for New Work Development. Mr. Woods has been with Seagle in some leadership capacity since 1996. Mr. Woods was formerly the General Director of Fort Worth Opera (2001-2017) a company that was transformed by restructured festival format, and a devotion to new American opera. Considered a leading expert in 21st century opera composition, Mr. Woods was hailed by Opera News in 2012 as one of the “25 influencers in the world of opera” for the next decade. In addition to mainstage opera productions, Fort Worth Opera launched a contemporary chamber opera series in 2008 called Opera Unbound and in 2013, Mr. Woods further advanced the company’s commitment to new work by starting Frontiers, a composer – librettist competition to identify new operas still in development. He has served on the board of Opera America as a Vice President of Artistic Services. Prior to his management positions, Mr. Woods performed nationally and internationally as an operatic tenor for twenty years. He also served as General Director of Shreveport Opera. Mr. Woods frequently judges vocal competitions including the Richard Tucker Foundation, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Lieber Competition, Denver Opera Guild Competition, Dallas Opera Guild Competition, and Marguerite McCammon Competition.




8 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Very interesting article. Thank you.

  2. Leona King says:

    Why did he have to sleep separately? Guess this is a good story–wonderful opportunity for the guy–yet something makes me very sad!

  3. Darren K Woods says:

    Leona, if you do research on the racism and exclusion of the Adirondacks of African Americans and Jews in that period, you will realize that John Seagle was doing everything he could to bring Fulton here. It was a difficult time in our history. The fact that he braved bringing a black man into a mostly southern camp was so courageous.

    • Leona M King says:

      Mr Daren Woods, I do appreciate you taking your time to write me back and explain how difficult a time it was in the history of the Adirondacks for African Americans and how brave John Seagle was in inviting. Mr. Fulton to his camp. I am glad you saved The Closet and it will be a permanent part of a display at the Adirondack Experience. I hope it will be an opportunity to explain more about the African American experience or lack thereof as well. I spent many summers in the Adirondacks during the 1990’s and remember that time with great affection.

      Note: I am now 90 and a stay-at-home and I think I will take you up on doing some research about researching racism and exclusion of African Americans and Jews in the Adirondacks in that period. For the record, my background is Pennsylvania German.

  4. Richard L. Daly says:

    Greetings from Plattsburgh, NY!
    What a wonderful story. I’m looking forward to visiting the museum on Blue Mountain Lake next year and viewing their installation of The Closet . I spent a pleasant day at Seagle with Adirondack Architectural Heritage, my first ever visit on July 29, 2017. We had a chance to view the rehearsal of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. The young performers were so talented, given that it was sung in German. Seagle’s policy of training singers across the spectrum from Broadway through Opera ensures them of a degree of success and longevity in their chosen field.
    Best wishes to Darren Woods and colleagues!

    • Darren K Woods says:

      Thanks, so much Richard. Fulton was with us yesterday all day long doing interviews. What a gracious man. His wife is also wonderful. We feel like we found family members we had lost. I hope you will come back to Seagle some day soon.

  5. John Q. Barrett says:

    This skips over very big questions: WHO was segregating people by race in this way at this place and time, and pray tell WHY?

  6. […] Segregation: Fulton Fryar’s Closet At Seagle Music Colony […]

Leave a Reply to Darren K Woods

Leave a Reply to Darren K Woods Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *