Songbirds of the John Philip Sousa Band March 20 2013, 0 Comments

Contributed by: Jack Kopstein

Songbirds of the John Philip Sousa Band 1892-1931

In Paul Bierley’s book “The Incredible band of John Philip Sousa” he discusses one of the most intriguing aspects of the band, the vocal soloists. Many of the vocalists sang their way to stardom and appeared with the band beginning in 1893 until the demise of the band in 1931. This idea definitely enhanced the luster of the band over the years of its existence. The first of many was Marcella Lindh who had the distinction of being the first soprano with the band at its inauguration in 1892. She first appeared with the band in 1892 and again in 1893-94. She went on to sing with the New York Metropolitan Opera and several other opera companies in Europe.  She was followed by Elizabeth Northrup in 1896 -97.  Northrup was very successful as a teacher, toured Canada and the United States,  as well as appearing regularly with the New York Metropolitan Orchestra.

One of Sousa’s most popular and distinguished vocalists was Estelle Lierbling who appeared in an estimated 1,600 concerts from 1902 to 1905. Later she became a concert artist and recitalist. During her later career, she became renowned teacher. One of her most famous pupils was Beverly Sills, a coloratura soprano. She also instructed Meryl Streep as a young girl. Another of the well- known and lovely woman to grace the concerts of Sousa was the soprano soloist Nora Fauchaud. She was billed as the “Norwegian Nightingale” as she was born in Norway when her mother had returned on a home visit. She grew up in North Dakota. Sousa discovered her in 1923 when she was a student and she sang with the band until 1927. She went on to have an illustrious career as a soloist in both Europe and America. She had the great distinction to teach at the auspicious Julliard School of Music. A long term member of the band who distinguished herself by introducing many of Sousa’s songs was lyric soprano Virginia Root. She endeared herself to the band and audiences with her charm and outgoing manner. She had a very long career with the band and remained from 1909 to 1917.  

Eleanor Virginia Root was a descendant of entrepreneur Cornelius Vanderbilt and American composer and music publisher George Root, who studied voice and held leading roles in opera productions in Italy and the United States. Miss Root toured with the Harry Lauder All Star Company, using the stage name, Virginia Vervelle, prior to serving as vocal soloist for the Sousa Band from 1909 through 1917. She was in demand as a soloist in the New York Hippodrome shows in 1916 and 1917, as well as in sacred and secular performances throughout her professional career.  With her ason, George, Root lived in Scarsdale, New York. She died at the age of 96 on June 2, 1980 in Springfield.

Marjorie Moody was engaged as a soloist briefly for the 1916 season after being discovered by Cornetist Frank Simon, and was with the band until 1931, sometimes sharing the spotlight with other sopranos. She sang approximately 2,500 solos. Her clarity, range, and power, combined with her charming disposition, brought outstanding reviews. She was called upon to sing as many as five encores a concert. Sousa dedicated two of his songs, "There`s a Merry Brown Thrush" and "Love`s Radiant Hour" to her. After her career with Sousa, she was a soloist with numerous symphony orchestras and sang opera in North America, South America and Europe.

The repertoire for the singers included numerous ballads of the times. In addition, most of the opera music available was transcribed for the band from the orchestral scores such as the works of Verdi and Rossini. Victor Herbert’s music was well represented with several vocal compositions especially from his operettas. Paul Bierley has listed numerous vocals in his book. An example of the work of song stylist Marjorie Moody is contained in the programs from the 1926 Willow Grove Concerts, where the featured songstress sang a number of well-chosen vocals including:

Song Come Back to Old Virginny, Traditional

Italian Street Song from Naughty Marietta, Victor Herbert

On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Strauss

There’s a Merry Brown Thrush, Sousa

When You and I were Seventeen, Kahn and Rosaff

Annie Laurie, Folk Song

Ah Sweet Mystery of Life, Victor Herbert

Dixie, Emmett

In Flanders Fields the Poppy Grows, Arranged by Sousa

- Jack Kopstein