Neighbors, George and Bertha, and Jesse [Blue Grass Female Orchestra]
The Blue Grass Female Orchestra was was organized in Lexington, KY in 1905 by photographer G. W. Neighbors [sources: "Colored," Lexington Leader, 08/03/1905, p.2; and The Negro Population of Lexington in the Professions, Business, Education and Religion by L. Harris, pp.[8 & 9] in photocopy c.2 of title at UK Special Collections]. The group was also referred to as the Blue Grass Orchestra. In 1907, members of the orchestra were Alice Richardson, Ethel White, Estella Braxton, Mattie Hamilton, Mary B. Johnson, Bertha Neighbors, Mary Randolph, Gertrude Ferguson, Nellie Gibson, Mattie Sanders, Mary E. Mitchell, and Olive Thomas.
Though they were referred to as girls and young ladies in the newspaper, half of the group members were married women. Mrs. Bertha Fortune Neighbors was the first cornetist in the orchestra and she was the wife of George W. Neighbors. Bertha was born in 1883 in Cave City, KY. She was the cornetist in the senior choir at Main Street Baptist Church in Lexington, and she had had many public performances, sometimes she and her husband performed as a duet.
Neither Bertha nor George W. Neighbors were from Lexington, KY. George was born December 29, 1877, in Hardin County, KY, and in 1880 he lived in Glendale with his brother William and his grandmother Elizabeth Neighbors [source: 1880 U.S. Census; and George W. Neighbors' WWII Draft Registration Card]. George W. Neighbors was a self-taught photographer and had his business in Louisville. He is listed as "George Neighbors (Neighbors Bros.)" in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1899, p.825. George and his brother Jesse R. Neighbors owned their photography business that was first located at 931. W. Walnut Street, and by 1901, the business was located at 912 W. Walnut; their business was located within their home.
The brothers' father, John Neighbors, was listed as the photographer at 912 W. Walnut Street in 1903 [source: p.962 in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1903]. By 1904, Jesse Neighbors had taken over the photography business that lasted until at least 1933 when the business address was 1117 W. Walnut Street in Louisville [source: Caron's Louisville City Directory for 1933, p.1247]. His brother, George W. Neighbors, was married to Bertha Fortune by 1904 and had a photography business in Lexington, KY at his home, 1118 N. Broadway [source: p.472 in Lexington City Directory, 1904-1905].
In 1906, George Neighbors attended the Aristo School of Photography held in Louisville [source: The Negro Population of Lexington in the Professions, Business, Education and Religion by L. Harris]. In 1907, George and Bertha's son, George H. Neighbors, was born; the family lived on Chestnut Street in Lexington and Bertha's mother, Jennie Fortune, lived with the family [source: 1910 U.S. Census]. The family is last listed in the 1909 Lexington city directory; the Neighbors family left Lexington and were living in Chicago where George W. Neighbors owned his photography shop [source: 1920 U.S. Census].
George and Bertha's daughter Virginia was born in Chicago in 1912 [source: Cook County, Illinois, Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922]. A second son, Harold, was born in 1919, and according to the 1920 census, there were also two boarders who lived with the family on Forest Avenue. In 1921, the couple suffered the loss of their stillborn son [source: Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947].
By 1930 there had been a series of changes in the Neighbors' lives. George W. Neighbors' no longer had a photography business, his job was registration clerk at a post office in Chicago. George and his wife had a fourth child, John. Bertha's mother, Jennie Fortune, still lived with the family [source: 1930 U.S. Census].
George W. Neighbors died in Chicago on April 29, 1949 [source: Cook County, Illinois Death Index, 1908-1988]. He was the son of John and Sallie Williams Neighbors [source: Neighbors Family Tree in Ancestry.com]. Bertha Fortune Neighbors died April 19, 1955 in Chicago [source: Cook County, Illinois Death Index, 1908-1988]. Jesse R. Neighbors was born May 4, 1876 and died in Louisville on April 4, 1940 [source: Kentucky Certificate of Death Registrar's #1900]. George Neighbors and his brother Jesse Neighbors were among the first African Americans to own photography businesses in Kentucky.