Emma Azalia Smith Hackley was an African American singer and Denver political activist born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1867. Her parents, business owners Henry and Corilla Smith, moved to Detroit where she attended Washington Normal School, graduating in 1886. Smith, a child prodigy learned to play the piano at three and later took private voice, violin and French lessons.

Emma Smith worked as an elementary school teacher for eighteen years. During that period she met and married Edwin Henry Hackley, a Denver attorney and editor of the city’s black newspaper, the Denver Statesman. In 1900 Hackley received her music degree from Denver University. In 1905-1906 she studied voice in Paris with former Metropolitan Opera star Jean de Reszke.

I Need Thee Oh - Dr. Jeremiah C. Hackley (Circa 2013)