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Abbott, Emma (09 December 1850–05 January 1891), soprano and opera impresario, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Seth Abbott, an itinerant musician and music teacher, and Almira Palmer. Abbott’s father encouraged her and her brother George to develop the musical ability that they demonstrated at an early age. Emma, who sang constantly as a child, chose the guitar as her instrument; her brother studied the violin. In 1854 the family moved from Chicago to Peoria, Illinois, and their fortunes declined. To supplement the family income Seth Abbott and the two musical children began to give concerts in Peoria and elsewhere starting in 1859; according to contemporary biographical lexicographer F. O. Jones, the trio performed hundreds of concerts during this period....

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Marian Anderson Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 49 P&P).

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Anderson, Marian (17 February 1897–08 April 1993), contralto, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Berkeley Anderson, a refrigerator room employee at the Reading Terminal Market, an ice and coal dealer, and a barber, and Anne (also seen as “Annie” and “Anna,” maiden name unknown), a former schoolteacher. John Anderson’s various jobs provided only a meager income, and after his death, before Marian was a teenager, her mother’s income as a laundress and laborer at Wannamaker Department Store was even less. Yet, as Anderson later recalled, neither she nor her two younger sisters thought of themselves as poor. When Marian was about eight her father purchased a piano from his brother; she proceeded to teach herself how to play it and became good enough to accompany herself. Also as a youngster, having seen a violin in a pawn shop window, she became determined to purchase it and earned the requisite $4 by scrubbing her neighbors’ steps. She attempted to teach herself the violin as well but discovered that she had little aptitude for the instrument....

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Baccaloni, Salvatore (14 April 1900–31 December 1969), opera singer, was born in Rome, Italy, the son of Joaquin Baccaloni, a building contractor, and Ferminia Desideri. Young Salvatore attended Rome’s San Salvatore in Lauro School, where he received vocal instruction, eventually obtaining a soprano post in 1906 with St. Peter’s Sistine Chapel Choir. As a child Baccaloni earned a wage equivalent to that of a government clerk, singing mass litanies and Gregorian chants three times a week. When his voice broke at age twelve, however, he was forced to briefly abandon his singing career until he made the usual transition to bass....

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Barnabee, Henry Clay (14 November 1833–16 December 1917), singer and actor, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of Willis Barnabee and Mary (maiden name unknown). His father was a stagecoach driver who became an innkeeper. Willis Barnabee’s wife was cook, and his adolescent son Henry was odd-jobs man and at times bartender....

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Bishop, Anna Rivière (09 January 1810–18 March 1884), soprano, was born in London, England, the daughter of Daniel Valentine Rivière and Henrietta Thunder. Her father, who had emigrated from France to England, was a drawing master and an amateur flutist. Bishop’s musical talents were evident at an early age, and she studied with her mother before being selected as a foundation student at the Royal Academy of Music in early 1824. There she studied piano with Ignaz Moscheles. In the mid-1820s she abandoned study of the piano in favor of voice, which she studied under Henry Rowley Bishop, then one of the most popular English composers. Anna sang at a students’ concert at St. James’s Palace in 1828, in the presence of the king. Her public debut, with the Concerts of Antient Music, was at the New Rooms, Hanover Square, on 20 April 1831. She left the Royal Academy the same year, apparently without receiving a degree. In July 1831 she married Bishop, barely a month after the death of his first wife. The couple had three children....

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David Bispham Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G399-1869).

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Bispham, David Scull (05 January 1857–02 October 1921), opera singer and recitalist, was the son of William D. Bispham and Jane Lippincott Scull, of Philadelphia. His father was a prosperous wool merchant who strayed from Quaker observance to such a point that his mother was disowned by her pious family for marrying “out of meeting.” Still, the Bisphams considered themselves Quakers, and like many nineteenth-century Quakers, the family held the arts to be a laudable component of life, but not a centerpiece. They certainly did not see music as a suitable profession for a son. Bispham had only rudimentary exposure to music and appeared headed for a career in the family’s wool business when he enrolled at Haverford College. At Haverford, however, he immersed himself in student theater and music, and his resonant voice and thespian talents flourished. He married Catherine Stricker Russell in 1885; they had three children. Later, in 1908, they separated....

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Dominique-René de Lerma

Bledsoe, Jules (29 December 1897–14 July 1943), baritone, was born Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe in Waco, Texas, the son of Henry L. Bledsoe and Jessie Cobb, occupations unknown. Following his parents’ separation in 1899, he lived with his maternal grandmother, a midwife and nurse, who encouraged him to appreciate music. Graduating in 1918 magna cum laude from Bishop College, Bledsoe began graduate medical studies at Columbia University, withdrawing after the death of his mother in 1920 to dedicate himself to singing. In 1924 he presented his debut recital at Aeolian Hall in New York....

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Braslau, Sophie (16 August 1892–22 December 1935), contralto singer, was born in New York City, the only child of Abel Braslau, a physician, and Alexandra Goodelman. Émigrés from the Ukraine in the 1880s, they possessed a lively interest in the arts and availed themselves of the cultural events in their adopted city. In time the home that they established on West Eighty-sixth Street, part of which was set aside for Dr. Braslau’s medical practice, attracted the intelligentsia of the day and provided the ideal atmosphere for Sophie, whose many talents, especially in music, asserted themselves in early childhood....

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Brignoli, Pasquilino (1824–30 October 1884), tenor, was born in Naples, Italy. His father (name unknown) was reportedly a glove manufacturer. His mother’s name is also not known. He received a well-grounded musical education in Naples and composed an opera at age fifteen. By 1849 he was in Paris, where his singing at a party attracted the attention of Madame Marietta Alboni, the noted contralto. Dark, handsome, and thin, Brignoli made his Paris operatic debut in Gioacchino Rossini’s ...

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Callas, Maria (02 December 1923–16 September 1977), legendary operatic singing actress, was born Cecilia Sophia Anna Kalogeropoulos in New York City, the daughter of Georges Kalogeropoulos, a pharmacist, and Elmina Evangelia Dimitroadis. The family had arrived in the United States from Greece a few months earlier. The family surname was legally changed to Callas in 1926 shortly before Maria was christened in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manhattan. In 1927 Georges opened his own pharmacy. After her father lost this business in 1929 during the stock market crash, the family moved to Washington Heights, where Callas attended public school. Her parents’ marriage was not a happy one, and, when it became evident that Callas had unusual vocal potential, her mother decided to seek a new life apart from her husband. Evangelia and Georges mutually agreed to separate. Obsessed with turning at least one of her daughters into a famous artist, she made plans to return to her own family. Shortly after Callas graduated from the eighth grade in January 1937, she returned to Greece with her mother....

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Enrico Caruso. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97980).

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Caruso, Enrico (25 February 1873–02 August 1921), opera singer, was born (and christened) Errico Caruso in Naples, Italy, the son of Marcellino Caruso, a mechanic, and Anna Baldini. When Caruso was ten his mother sent him to school for rudimentary lessons and voice training; he also studied voice privately. He became an apprentice at a mechanical plant, where his drawing ability attracted attention. He appeared in an amateur opera when he was fourteen and later sang at church services. Within months of his mother’s death in 1888 Caruso’s father remarried (Caruso was devoted to his stepmother). Working as a mechanic and then a factory accountant, Caruso also sang in churches and cafes for substantial pay. In 1891 he took lessons from Maestro Guglielmo Vergine, who forced him to sign a contract that amounted to extortion. At age twenty Caruso was drafted into the Italian army but was released a few weeks later when his voice was praised by a friend of his major. Caruso debuted in Naples in 1895, performing in a poor opera written by a wealthy local composer. Substantial operatic roles at Caserta and Naples followed....

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Cary, Annie Louise (22 October 1841–03 April 1921), contralto, was born in Wayne, Kennebec County, Maine, the daughter of Nelson Howard Cary, a physician, and Maria Stockbridge. After being graduated from Gorham Seminary in Gorham, Maine, in 1860, Cary determined to pursue a singing career and moved to Boston to begin voice lessons, procuring a position as a church soloist to help support herself. She also joined the chorus of the Handel and Haydn Society. Appearing as a soloist with this organization in a performance of Handel’s ...

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De Angelis, Thomas Jefferson (30 November 1859–20 March 1933), actor and musical performer, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of John “Johnny” De Angelis and Susan Loudenschlager, stage performers. He was thus born to a theatrical heritage. His uncle, Thomas Rosa, taught him dancing and gymnastics, and his father gave him voice lessons. De Angelis also attended a few classes in public schools in both Philadelphia and New York, but his formal schooling was sparse....

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De Cisneros, Eleanora (31 October 1878–03 February 1934), opera singer and concert artist, was born Eleanor Broadfoot in Gramercy Park, New York City, the daughter of John C. Broadfoot, a Scotch-American writer, and Ellen Small. Schooled at a private Roman Catholic academy in Brooklyn, where her promising alto voice was discovered, Eleanor studied initially with Francesco Fanciulli, the academy’s choirmaster, and subsequently with Mme. Murio-Celli in Manhattan....

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Duncan, Todd (12 February 1903–27 February 1998), singer and teacher, was born Robert Todd Duncan in Danville, Kentucky, the son of John Duncan, a garage owner, and Lettie Cooper Duncan, a music teacher. Duncan's B.A. (1925) came from Butler University; his M.A. (1930) from Columbia University's Teachers College....

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Todd Duncan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Eddy, Nelson (29 June 1901–06 March 1967), film actor and concert baritone, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of William Darius Eddy, an electrical engineer and inventor, and Isabel Kendrick. Eddy was from a musical family: both of his parents were noted local singers; his grandmother, Caroline Ackerman Kendrick, had been a famous oratorio singer; and his grandfather, Isaac N. Eddy, had been the bass drummer with Reeves’s American Band. In 1915 his parents separated, and his mother moved to Philadelphia. Nelson left school to take a job with her brother at the Mott Iron Works there, and he never returned to finish his formal education. His father stayed in Providence and later remarried. Virginia, a half-sister, was born in 1925. Later, her two sons became favorites of Eddy’s, who had no children of his own....