John L. Littleton, Jr., Madison Parish, Louisiana Submitted by Richard P. Sevier

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John L. Littleton, Jr. - Madison Parish, Louisiana

MADISON COORDINATOR'S NOTE: John L. Littleton was one of the few Tallulah and Madison Parish natives to achieve international recognition. As a musician of unusual talent John won several medals from the City of Paris, France for his albums and singing ability.

John Littleton was born on June 20, 1922, son of Reverend John L. Littleton, Sr. and Bertha Littleton. He attended elementary and high school in the public schools of Madison Parish. His musical ability was discovered by the late Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson (Mrs. T) of Tallulah - an accomplished musician in her own right -- who tutored him as a young boy.

After graduation from high school, John enlisted in the army and served in World War II. When the War was over, he stayed in France and studied at the Paris Conservatory of Music where he became a well-known concert artist. He specialized in traditional southern spirituals, blues, blue grass as well as the classics. In 1956 he won first place singing opera at the Paris Conservatory and was the first Negro to do so.

Later John received worldwide acclaim as a musician.

John Littleton died in August 24, 1998 in Reims, France and was buried in Paris on September 1, 1998.


The following was translated from -- a French website. The French to English translation was made with partial help from (and with apologies to) the AltaVista translation website: and modified when necessary. It is hoped that not too much was lost in the translation.

John Littleton, Jr. was born in Louisiana, Tallulah to be exact. His father, John Littleton, Sr. was a preacher and a farmer; his mother, born Bertha Brown, had three other sons: Philip, John and Preston, and two daughters: Piccola and Helen. Life in Louisiana at that time was not easy. John's grandfather had known slavery: one therefore better understands his will to later sing the songs of Love, Justice and Fraternity.

John worked in the cotton fields and accompanied his father when he would go in the various small Baptist Churches of the area. Soon a tragedy struck the family, Bertha Littleton, the mother of John, died when he was only six years old. John was marked forever by this loss. Following this death, the family farm was abandoned.

John had an uncommonly good voice, and very quickly people around him encouraged him to develop this gift: in particular in particular Mrs. Hayes, professor of music in Tallulah and then Mrs. Thompson, with whom he took lessons every morning at 7 o'clock. He traveled and went to live with some of his aunts in California. John entered the John Pepperdine College where he continued singing and his repertory was definitely inspired by musicals: he interpreted the traditional ones of Bing Crosby and others.

John was distinguished in the family; he had a fierce will and wanted to discover the world. During World War II he left to carry out his military service in Europe. Corporal Littleton was affected in particular by Rheims, in France.

Along with other American soldiers, he took part in official receptions, for example in the auditorium of Rheims, located on Avenue Jean Jaurès. His friend Chester Harris played the piano, and John sang. Within a few yards from there, at number 32, lived the Diblik family: Jean and Estelle Diblik owned a famous photography studio. Jean Diblik came from Czechoslovakia and his wife Estelle was born in Vincennes; they had two children, Jeanine Estelle and Jean. It was in this auditorium that John Littleton would meet Jeanine, his future wife. In fact, all the Diblik family would "adopt him", and John always had a deep respect and a great affection for them.

His service finished, John did not return to the United States. Encouraged by his future beautiful family, he surmounted the many obstacles, in particular the problem of language, and entered the National Academy of Music of Paris. Once again his Low-Baritone voice made wonderful music.

In particular he interpreted the role of the Brother Laurent in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, and also Moussorgski's Boris Godounov. He won a First Prize Medal for Song, a First Prize Medal for Opera and a Second Prize Medal for Comic Opera. He also won several international song contests.

At his graduation from the academy, many opportunities were offered to John Littleton: he could either make a career in the traditional manner (thanks to his impressive prize list), or engage in the "varieties" and follow in the steps of Bing Crosby. An option not to be neglected, finally, was the cinema: during the Sixties, Metro Goldwyn Mayer contacted him for a possible role with Richard Burton and Elisabeth Taylor in a film entitled "The Comedians" (an offer that he refused since he had previously agreed to do a series of concerts in France). His destiny would be very different.

In 1960, the young people who heard him at the Elysium Palace of Vichy and understood his attachment for Negro-Spirituals, asked to meet him: they announced their desire for him to sing French hymns in order to liven up their celebrations. John was deeply influenced by this meeting and decided to take this route. Nevertheless, it would have been out of the question for him to plagiarize Spirituals, which correspond to a particular experience of the American black people; he thus decided to produce French songs that would create a true relationship by inviting people to show a greater spontaneity. John chose simple melodies that the faithful could easily remember in order to sing God with all their heart.

As the years passed John Littleton composed many songs and worked with many talented authors, such as the Abbot Zurfluh, Maurice Debaisieux and Odette Vercruysse, to quote only some of them. Songs such as "I Seek", "the Open Hands", "Give Me the Hand My Brother", "You Our Lady"... became the "traditional" ones that the faithful of the four corners of the world sang spontaneously.

John was invited all over the world: to Japan; to New Caledonia; to Lebanon; to Haiti; to the United States; to Cameroon; to Poland... He took part in gatherings joining together hundreds of thousands of people (to the Park of the Princes in Paris; to Düsseldorf...) and was present to sing in the smallest villages: this is what is a vocation is all about, being always available.

John Littleton was always faithful to his origin and his roots. He never forgot the pain of his ancestor slaves, their joy when they discovered God, this God who had released the people of Israel. The black slaves sang, shouted towards those that liked them. For John Littleton, real meaning is to render comprehensible in the world the deeply religious content of these powerful and beautiful songs. It always been sad that some, for purely commercial purposes, integrate the various types of "negro music" and thereby denigrate even the spirituals of his forefathers. Certain definitions are essential:

The authentic NEGRO SPIRITUALS mark the meeting of the black slaves and their Creator; they do not express hatred or rancor. Taking as a starting point the texts of the Old Testament, they are songs of hope. GOSPEL SONGS, as their name indicates, refer to the New Testament. They are more recent than the Negro spirituals and have more worked out musical structure.

These hymns have the intensity of a prayer, in that they have nothing to do with the profane works of Jazz and Blues.

Certain songs resemble the Negro spirituals and yet are not: for example, "Old Man River", a composition by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein which refers to the life of a black workman on the banks of the Mississippi.

Many artists, today, include in their repertory of Spirituals, to follow the fashion; the terms "Spirituals" and "Gospels" are galvaudés. Splendid songs such as "When the Saints go marching in" (one of the preferred songs of John's mother) are played on almost any occasion. Some do not hesitate to take "the envelope" of Spirituals (the rhythm; ambiance) and reject the background and spirit of it. In other words, one makes money (the mixture of the sources widens the audience) and one rejects God.

This confusion between profane and religious music is not recent. Since 1930, Louis Armstrong recorded "The Good Book" and thus drew from a financially fertile repertory. 70 years later, the problem remains.

John Littleton continued the fight of his father to the end. He was the pioneer of the Negro spiritual in France, and he sang the faith of his ancestors for the whole world. In each one of his concerts, he presented the history of Spirituals before singing these powerful and involving songs.

On July 10, 1957, John Littleton married Jeanine Estelle Diblik, daughter of a famous photographer. The ceremony took place in the church Saint Andre of Rheims. It was in this church that all the great stages of the family life were be celebrated. John and his wife settled in Rheims, but always kept an office in the 8th district of Paris in order to facilitate his work: professional appointments, meetings with musicians... etc. John Littleton liked Paris very much, its dynamism and its beauty, the city returned to him well while honouring him several years later (the City decorated him with medals of silver and vermeille).

From this union were born two children: Doris and Patrick. John while carrying out an active artistic career succeeded in maintaining professional and family life. Deep and inspired, charismatic and strong, John Littleton never ceased being "true": the man of conviction, the man of scene and the man of family always.