Open main menu

ABBOTT, Emma, prima donna, born in Chicago, Ill., in 1850. Her father was a music teacher, and he encouraged her and her brother George to develop the musical talents that each showed at a very early age. Emma was a singing child, and under her father's training she sang well and became a proficient performer on the guitar. Professor Abbott moved from Chicago to Peoria, Ill., in 1854. There his patronage was so small that his family was in straitened circumstances. He gave a concert in 1859, in which the young Emma was prima donna and guitar player, and her brother was her support. The entertainment was a success, and Professor Abbott and his two talented children gave a large number of concerts in other towns and cities, with varying fortunes. In 1866 the finances of the family were at a low ebb, and Emma took a district school to teach in order to assist in supporting the household. Emma's early lessons on the guitar and her brother's on the violin were not entirely paid for until she had become a successful concert singer in New York. At the age of thirteen she taught the guitar with success. Her education was acquired in the Peoria public schools. When she was sixteen years old she sang in the synagogue in Peoria. At that age she joined the Lombard Concert Company, of Chicago, and traveled with them in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. When the company disbanded Emma found herself in Grand Haven, Mich., friendless and moneyless. With her guitar she started out alone and gave concerts in Michigan and the neighboring States, and thus worked her way to New York City, where she gave parlor concerts in the hotels in which she staid, and in that way earned the money for her expenses. Failing to gain notice in New York, she borrowed money and returned to the west. She tried a concert season in Chicago and Milwaukee, but was unsuccessful. She then tried a number of smaller towns and ended her tour in a failure in a hotel in Toledo, Ohio. Among her hearers in that slimly attended concert was Clara Louise Kellogg, who recognized her merit and gave her money enough to go to New York, with a letter to EMMA ABBOTT.jpgEmma Abbott Professor Errani. In 1870 she began to study with him, and was engaged to sing in Dr. Chapin's church at a salary of $1,500 a year. In 1872 Mr. Lake, with the aid of Dr. Chapin's congregation, raised $10,000 to send her to Europe for musical training. She went to Milan and studied with San Giovanni, and afterwards to Paris, where she studied under Wartel for several years. She studied with Delle Sadie also. While in Paris, she suffered an illness that threatened the destruction of her voice. She made a successful début, however, and she had there a warm friend in the Baroness Rothschild. Numerous enticing offers were made to her by European managers. She made an engagement with Manager Gye in London, but refused, on moral grounds, to appear in the opera, "La Traviata." In this she was supported by Eugene Wetherell, her husband. He was a member of Dr. Chapin's church and had followed her to Europe, where they were secretly married. Her refusal to sing that rôle ended in the cancellation of her engagement with Mr. Gye. In 1876 she returned to the United States, and with C. D. Hess organized an opera company. She appeared in the Park Theater, Brooklyn, N. Y, in her famous rôle of Marguerite. Soon after she became her own manager, and her husband and Charles Pratt attended to her business until Mr. Wetherell's sudden death in Denver, Col., in 1888. Miss Abbott, for she always retained her maiden name, was successful from the start. In spite of abuse, ridicule and misrepresentation, she drew large audiences wherever she appeared. The critics at first derided her in every possible way, but the public did not heed the critics and crowded to hear the courageous little woman who could maintain her good temper under a shower of ridicule, the like of which never before fell upon the head of a public personage. She grew artistically every year, and her stainless character, her generosity to her company, her gifts to charity, and her industry and perseverance at length won over the critics, who had simply made manifest their inability to write down a really meritorious artist. Miss Abbott sang throughout the United States, and in an incredibly short time she had amassed a fortune of several millions of dollars. Her voice was a pure, clear, long-range soprano of great flexibility. Her rôles included Norma, Semiramide, Elvira, Martha, Lucia, and Marguerite, and in her last years she appeared in costumes more magnificent than any other singer had ever worn. She died in Ogden, Utah, 4th January, 1891, after an illness of less than a week. Her funeral was held in Chicago on 9th January, her body was cremated, in accordance with a provision of her will, and its ashes were deposited in the magnificent mausoleum she had built in Gloucester, Mass. Her large fortune was divided by her will among her relatives and friends, and various churches and charitable societies.