TAFFETA had such a crispness to it, and I ran my hands down the ruffles that spread out from the smooth corseted bodice of the dress. Not far enough, though. On the right side, the ruffles were hiked up above my knee and my leg was clearly visible, encased in the black net stockings that Joseph Henry insisted upon for all the girls at Theatre Comique. Even for me, the evening’s debuting featured songstress.
The curtains parted as the announcer said my name, and I saw the house was full, all 200 seats. The gaslights went up and the piano player began his introduction, barely audible against the conversation of the audience.
I only had two songs this night. I started with a civil war ballad, Pretty Peggy, but after a few bars that no one heard, I motioned to the piano player to launch into Mulligan’s Guards, the most popular song in St. Louis, my second choice. It was a rollicking song and just so, it captured their attention and the noise quieted. They were actually listening, and I began to march around the stage, stopping now and then to strike a pose, which they seemed to like, given the applause. I think it was my right leg that captured their attention, more so than my voice. At the end of the song I received thunderous applause, and then I decided to give them a song I’d learned from the Confederate prisoners back at Rock Island, “Aura Lee”.