In the late 1930s, with the threat of war on the horizon, the Negro singer John Payne came to stay in Looe, originally with the Hon Lady Cook at Porthallow, Talland. She had supported him when he first came to England and even helped him buy a house on Regent’s Park Road. The house soon became “the place to be” for African American who had come to Europe to establish professional music careers. This led to Payne recording a number of Negro spirituals for record companies including His Masters Voice (HMV)
Born in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1870s, he had arrived in England just after the First World War in the role of trainer for a spiritual choir who performed at the Philharmonic Hall for six months and later went on to train the choirs for both the London productions of ‘Uncle Toms Cabin’ and ‘Showboat’. It was during working on the latter show that he met Paul Robeson who then asked him to work on the films ‘Sanders of the River’ and ‘Jericho’ in which Payne also played a chaplain.
When Lady Cook died Payne moved into a flat on Hannafore Lane, West Looe, where he had a Steinway grand piano installed (with great difficulty!). He soon became something of a celebrity in the town helping local businessman Bert Middleton with fund raising concerts, and appearing on the Wilfred Pickles radio show. He would later go on to teach singing to local people including Jeanne Dingle, Betty Currah, and Sybil Hooper.
He died at the Dawn Nursing Home in October 1952 and is buried at West Looe cemetery. His stone bears the inscription, ‘The song is ended but the melody lingers on’.
Additional info found at http://afrovoices.com/john-c-payne-biography/