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, 8/3/1905, 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 the publication at UK Libraries' Special Collections and Research Center]. 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; 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. She had had many public performances, sometimes with her husband when they performed as a duet.
Neither Bertha nor George Neighbors were from Lexington. George was born December 29, 1877 in Hardin County, KY; in 1880 he lived in Glendale in the county with his brother William and grandmother Elizabeth Neighbors [source: 1880 U.S. Census; and George W. Neighbors' WWII Draft Registration card]. George W. Neighbors was a self-taught photographer who had a business in Louisville, KY. 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 a photography business that was first located at 931. W. Walnut Street. By 1901 the business was located within their home at 912 W. Walnut.
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 had taken over the photography business, which 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]. Jesse's brother George W. Neighbors was married to Bertha Fortune by 1904 and had a photography business in Lexington at his home at 1118 N. Broadway [source: p. 472 in Lexington City Directory, 1904-1905].
In 1906, George Neighbors attended the Aristo School of Photography located 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. 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 later 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 living 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 but worked as a registration clerk at a Chicago post office. At that time, 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 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 were among the first African Americans to own photography businesses in Kentucky.