Joan Hilda Hood Hammond was born and baptised in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her father, Samuel Hood, was born in England. He married his first wife Edith, then left her and took up with Joan's mother, Hilda Blandford, by whom he also had two sons in England. He informally added Hammond to his name, and they represented themselves as "Mr and Mrs Samuel H. Hammond", although they were not married at the time.
Hammond was born in May 1912, not long after the family had arrived in New Zealand. She was only 6 months old when her family moved again, to Sydney, Australia. Her parents finally married in Sydney on 25 May 1927, the day after her 15th birthday, although there is no evidence Samuel's first wife Edith had died by that time, or that they had ever divorced.
Hammond attended Pymble Ladies' College and excelled in both sports and music. She was known to her friends as 'Ham'. Hammond studied violin and singing at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. She played violin for three years with the Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra before studying singing in Vienna in 1936.
Hammond won the women's junior golf championship for New South Wales in 1929, and the women's state championship in 1932, 1934, and 1935. When she became well known as a golfer, she started to sign her name as "Joan Hood Hammond", and newspaper articles would sometimes hyphenate this as "Joan Hood-Hammond"; however, she later dropped the "Hood".
An encounter with Lady Gowrie, the wife of the then Governor of New South Wales, Lord Gowrie, made the young Joan Hammond's dreams of studying in Europe possible. She would often refer to Lady Gowrie as her "guardian angel". Hammond's fellow golfers in New South Wales raised enough money for her to leave Australia in 1936 to study in Vienna. She also studied with Dino Borgioli in London. She toured widely, and became noted particularly for her Puccini roles. She returned to Australia for concert tours in 1946, 1949 and 1953, and starred in the second Elizabethan Theatre Trust opera season in 1957. She undertook world concert tours between 1946 and 1961. Her autobiography, A Voice, a Life, was published in 1970.
Dame Joan Hammond appeared in the major opera houses of the world – the Royal Opera House, La Scala, the Vienna State Opera and the Bolshoi. Her fame in Britain came not just from her stage appearances but from her recordings. She made famous the aria "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi. Recorded in English under the title "O My Beloved Father", it earned Hammond a Gold Record award for 1 million sold copies on 27 August 1969. Her recording of "O, Silver Moon" from Dvořák's Rusalka was also a huge seller. A prolific artist, Hammond's repertoire also encompassed Verdi, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Massenet, Beethoven, as well as folk song, art song and lieder.
A heart attack in 1965 forced Hammond to retire from the stage. Her final performance was at the funeral of her "guardian angel", Lady Gowrie (widow of the former Governor-General Lord Gowrie) who had helped Hammond fulfil her own dream. This funeral occurred on 30 July 1965, at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. This occasion was also memorable for the fact that Hammond was the first woman ever granted royal permission to sing in that chapel.
She became patron of the Melbourne-based Victorian Opera Company which had been founded in 1962 by Leonard Spira. Working with the then General Manager, Peter Burch, she invited the young conductor Richard Divall to become the companies Musical Director in 1972 whilst she acted as the Victorian Opera's artistic director from 1971 until 1976 and remained on the board until 1985. In 1976 the company changed its name to Victoria State Opera. She joined the Victorian Council of the Arts, was a member of the Australia Council for the Arts’ opera advisory panel and was an Honorary Life Member of the Australian Opera.
Hammond embarked on a second career as a voice teacher after her performance career ended. In 1975, she was appointed the head of the voice faculty at the Victorian College of the Arts where she remained until her retirement seventeen years later in 1992. In that time she trained an extraordinary number of Australian singers who have since gone on to successful careers in Australia and on the international stage. Among her notable pupils is soprano Cheryl Barker. During the last few decades of her life, Hammond was instrumental in ensuring the continuing success of both the Australian Opera and the Victoria State Opera – organizations of which she was a lifetime member.
She died in 1996 in Bowral, New South Wales, aged 84, never having married, and was buried in the Bowral General Cemetery. Joan Carden sang at Hammond's funeral and memorial concert, both of which were held in Melbourne.
In the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1963 she was promoted to Commander (CBE). In the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1974 she was promoted within the order to Dame Commander (DBE) for distinguished services to singing.
- Hardy, p. 10
- Hardy, pp. 8, 9
- Hardy, p. 22
- MS 8648 – Papers of Dame Joan Hammond at the National Library of Australia
- Hardy, pp. 28, 30
- Hammond, p. 238
- Dame Joan Hilda Hood Hammond CBE CMG at White Hat
- Australian Government Honours site: OBE
- Australian Government Honours site: CBE
- Australian Government Honours site: DBE
- Australian Government Honours site: CMG
- "Moffatt Oxenbould" at Opera Australia
- Hammond, Joan. A Voice, a Life. Victor Gollancz (1970); ISBN 0-575-00503-3
- Hardy, Sara. Dame Joan Hammond: Love and Music. Allen & Unwin (2009); ISBN 978-1-74175-083-6
- D. Brook, Singers of Today (Revised Edition – Rockliff, London (1958), pp. 104–109.
- Hardy, Sara (June 2009). "The sporting Diva: Dame Joan Hammond". The National Library Magazine 1 (2): 28–30. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
- Hammond, Joan Hood (1912–1996), profile and further links
- Joan Hammond – programs and related material at the National Library of Australia