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In 1850, while John Jay II was focusing most of his career on an anti-slavery law and activism, he also represented Swedish superstar opera singer Jenny Lind. At the time of her tour, Lind was by far the most popular singer on the planet, having enjoyed major success in Europe during the 1840s. Queen Victoria of England even attended all sixteen of her London debut performances in 1846. You could say that Jenny was the Taylor Swift of her time!

In 1849, Lind was approached by American showman P. T. Barnum with a proposal to tour throughout the United States for more than a year. Realizing that it would yield large sums for her favorite charities, Lind agreed. She accepted his offer of $1,000 a night (plus expenses) for up to 150 concerts in the United States.  When factoring in Lind’s accompanist and other musicians, Barnum had committed to $187,500 (more than $5 million today) to bring Lind and her musical troupe to America.

Barnum heavily promoted Lind prior to her arrival in America.  When her boat arrived in New York on September 1, 1850, it was estimated that 40,000 people were there to greet her. Initially, there was no real contract between Barnum and Lind when she arrived in the US, only what was described as “a vague memorandum” between the two parties. So, almost immediately after arriving in America, Lind reached out to the law firm of John Jay II and Manusell Field to represent her in contract negotiations with P.T. Barnum. The two parties reached an agreement quickly and Lind set off on her grand tour. For her first set of concerts in New York, Jay was abroad in Europe on business, but Manusell Field (who was Jay’s brother-in-law as well as law partner) attended the first concert at Castle Garden about which he said, “Never before and never since has New York witnessed such a furor as the advent of Jenny Lind produced.” Field even assisted police in escorting Lind back to her carriage after the show, as the crowd that had gathered made it difficult to get through and “the police had difficulty forcing passage for us.”

Upon Jay’s return from Europe, he assumed the central role representing Lind’s interests for the rest of the tour, which was eventful as the contract between she and Barnum had to be re-negotiated multiple times. Jay and Barnum first re-negotiated Lind’s contact because after her initial run of shows in New York, Barnum had kept a lot of the profits that should have belonged to Lind! The new contract agreed upon between Jay and Barnum gave Lind a far more reasonable portion of the concert profits and the ability to end the tour before the 150 concert dates if she so desired.  These terms infuriated Barnum.  He wrote: “John Jay was a great man. But one of the meanest that ever lived.”

Part of the agreement that Jay made with Barnum was, now that Lind was receiving the larger share of the profits, a portion of those profits would go to charities of Lind’s choice. Barnum had said she would do this as part of his promotion for the tour, as Lind was known in Europe for her charitable contributions. Interestingly it appears that Lind herself wasn’t really involved in selecting the charities or the amount she would give, she left that up to John Jay II! She gave her lawyer about eleven thousand dollars and told him to choose the causes he thought would be best for her review. Jay and Field did just that and upon showing Lind the list they had made, “She approved it, without hardly reading it.”

That final clause in the contract was exercised by Lind in June of 1851, when after performing ninety-five concerts for Barnum, she decided to terminate their contact and sing the remaining shows without Barnum’s promotion or involvement. The reason for Lind’s sudden decision to break the contract was apparently that Barnum wanted to schedule a performance for her in a building in Philadelphia that she thought was beneath her. According to Mansuell Field, Jay told him that during a meeting about the matter, Lind told Barnum “ …that she was not a horse, and therefore, would not appear there.”

Jenny Lind did go on to perform the remaining concerts as her own promoter. She even scheduled an extra performance in Toronto, Canada, which sold out within 90 minutes of the tickets going on sale. Ultimately, the tour was a resounding success for both Jenny Lind and John Jay II as both parties benefitted not only financially, but from a publicity standpoint as well. The fact that an international celebrity such as Lind thought of John Jay II as her first choice for contract attorney speaks to his prominence in both the legal profession and the public eye at that time. Working for Lind was probably a welcome distraction during that period of Jay’s life, as most of his work was for the abolition movement and aiding people escaping slavery in the south.