Mary McCormic

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This article is about the opera singer. For the actress, see Mary McCormack.

Mary McCormic (November 11, 1889[1] – February 10, 1981) was an American operatic soprano and a professor of opera at the University of North Texas College of Music (1945–1960).

For more than a decade (early 1920s to late 1930s), McCormic was among the most famous sopranos in the world. She was most known for her leading roles with the Paris National Opera, the Opéra-Comique (14 years), the Monte Carlo Opera, and the Chicago Civic Opera (10 years). She spent much of 1937 touring with the Kryl Symphony Orchestra.[2]

McCormic was born in Belleville, Arkansas. A onetime obscure Arkansas housewife, McCormic rose to stardom and enjoyed a colorful personal life — four marriages and four divorces (men of no resemblance to one another), almost a fifth, a high-dollar lawsuit defense for assaulting an unauthorized female biographer, boom and bust personal wealth, witty humor, and brush with royalty. McCormic captured world intrigue with the panache of the operas she starred in, all with the backdrop of being born at the end of the Gilded Age, growing up as a teenager during World War I, flourishing as an opera superstar through the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, the Jazz Age, the Great Crash, and failing in her last two high profile marriages in the throes of the Great Depression. She died, in her eighties, in Amarillo, Texas.

Selected singing roles[edit]

Chicago Opera Association[edit]

Chicago Civic Opera[edit]

  • 1923 — Referred to as "the Cowgirl Soprano" by The New York Times, McCormic and Charles Marshall sang the leading roles in the premier of The Snow Bird, an American one-act opera.[3][4]

Paris Opera[edit]

Opera Comique[edit]

Artistic management[edit]

  • 1938 — McCormic, later in her career, was managed by Mme. LaReine.[9]

Early life[edit]

Born in Belleville, AR, and reared in Dardanelle, AR, and Ola, AR (all three in Yell County, AR), McCormic, was known growing up as Mamie Harris. Mary McCormic was one of 4 born to:

  1. Odelle Crawford Harris (July 4, 1886, Belleville, AR - May 26, 1950 Amarillo, TX)
  2. Thurman Harris (died young)
  3. Mamie Harris (Nov 11, 1889, Belleville, AR – February 10, 1981, Amarillo, TX)
  4. Williard Harris (Feb 20, 1892, Yell County, AR - Mar 24, 1949 Amarillo, TX[12])
  5. Norborn Harris (c. 1898 - Feb 10, 1944, San Francisco[13])
  1. Johnnie Harris (a girl, died young)

Mamie's interest in becoming an opera star began at age nine, and continued while attending Ola High School of Ola, Arkansas. She, with her family, moved to Portales, NM, in 1907, then to Amarillo in 1909.

Emil Frey Myers (1886–1957) gave McCormic's her first voice lessons in Amarillo. He was the conductor the Amarillo Civic Chorus and was a major concert promoter in the Texas Panhandle. Myers, with his wife, Lila, founded the Amarillo School of Music, Inc.

McCormic's father and two brothers, Odell and Williard, built a grocery store business — "J H Harris & Sons" and "Harris Food Stores" and "Rolling Stone Stores" (as many as 10 stores located in Borger, Pampa, Dalhart and Amarillo). The business was sold in 1946, shortly before the death of the father. The father, Odell, and Williard also operated a 58,000-acre (230 km2) ranch in Union County, NM, 15 miles (24 km) north of Clayton. The father purchased the first portion of the ranch in 1915.

During a 1914 Tri-State Fair Music Festival in Amarillo, McCormic became aware of the operatic possibilities of her voice.[14] By way of a Methodist Choir in Chicago and a singing contest sponsored by Mary Garden, her operatic potential became known to others.[15]

Attending college[edit]

McCormic studied music at Ouachita College,[16] University of Arkansas and then, with the intention of becoming a lyric soprano, Northwestern University where she took vocal lessons.[17] McCormic became a protégé of Mary Garden (1874–1967). Both McCormic and Garden had been vocal students of Mrs. Sarah Robinson-Duff ( -1934)


Kenneth Joseph
Born January 27, 1886, Perryville, Arkansas;[18] died June 8, 1946, Sacramento, CA; Joseph and Mary married around 1908 in Arkansas. During their marriage, they had a daughter:
  1. Reba McCormic, aka, Alexandra Rebecca (Sandie) Goshie[19] (nee Rankin, b. Feb 16, 1910, Ola, AR; d. Jan 23, 2002, McLean, VA). Sandie was married to John Louis Goshie (1908–1974) a US Foreign Service Officer
Born c. 1883, Saugus, MA; marriage ended in divorce — Chester, a reputed Chicago mob lawyer, was Mary's "second husband." But Mary, in a Liberty Magazine article, described the marriage as a "sham." The marriage occurred in secret in Kalamazoo. Chester later revealed that the marriage was not valid because it took place while both were married to others. Chester had married Ava (née?) in 1908. Mary began using the name "McCormic" after a Chicago Civic Opera employee misspelled Macomic.[20] The 1920 US Census records show them as being married. Chester died at the age of 64 on April 16, 1956, in Oak Park, IL.[21]
Prince Serge
Married April 27, 1931, Phoenix, AZ; divorced Nov 14, 1933, Los Angeles County, CA[22]
Homer V.
Married Nov. 25, 1936, Kansas City, MO; divorced July 14, 1937

Quotes on men & marriage[edit]


Teaching at the University of North Texas College of Music[edit]

In 1944, Wilfred Bain, dean of the University of North Texas College of Music, recruited Mary McCormic to create and direct an Opera Workshop. McCormic transformed herself from diva to artist-in-residence educator. She founded, defined, directed, and, when necessary, defended the school's first Opera Workshop. She built the Opera Workshop from scratch – on a shoestring budget – molding it over 16 prolific years into what has become her crowning legacy that, for 71 years, has enriched the Southwest. Wilfred Bain went down in history as one of the greatest music school deans of all time. In books and memoirs of accomplishments, Bain often tells of the hiring of Mary McCormic as one of this great accomplishments at North Texas.

The North Texas Opera Workshop was the first collegiate touring opera workshops west of the Mississippi and, at the time of its founding, was the only opera production company in existence in the Southwest. The San Antonio Grand Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Opera in the Heights and others were not yet in existence.

Through the opera workshop, McCormic pioneered an approach to opera in an era that wiped out major opera companies on the heels of the Great Depression. The new "low-cost workshop" model also offered new opportunities for composers who otherwise would never have their operas produced. And the workshop model gave hope for opera itself, when many in the world dismissed opera as a bygone luxury of the rich. The new "low cost model" also gave access in regions of the world that otherwise had little hope of having opera.

Under McCormic, the opera workshop performed locally, toured, and did broadcasts in radio and TV often with near quality of a reputable professional company.

When the Dallas Opera was founded in 1957, the UNT Opera Workshop and Vocal Studies provided a steady supply of singers for the Dallas Opera Chorus.

In 1966, McCormic retired and moved to Amarillo to make her home with her widowed sister-in-law, Mrs. Odell Harris.

The UNT Opera Workshop is an integral part of one of the most comprehensive music schools in the world; a school that, since the 1940s, has been among the largest in the country, and in recent years, holds the largest enrollment of any music institution accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.[27] The UNT College of Music is also the oldest (and first) in the world to offer a degree in jazz studies.

UNT Opera Workshop Productions[edit]

Directed by Mary McCormic[edit]

Mary Garden supervised the final ten-days of rehearsals[29]

Composition dedicated to McCormic[edit]


  1. ^ DOB is from her grave marker; the DOD listed in the Social Security Death Index states November 12, 1895; the grave marker is consistent with archival records, namely the 1910 US Census, which, places her DOB around 1889-1890
  2. ^ "Kryl Symphony Here December 15". The Ellensburgh (WA) Capital. 3 December 1937. p. 5. 
  3. ^ Music Notes Afield, The New York Times, Jan 7, 1923
  4. ^ Edward Colman Moore (1877-1935) (Moore was a music critic for the Chicago Daily Journal), Forty Years of Opera, pps. 260-261, Horace Liveright (1930), republished by Arno Press, (1977)
  5. ^ McCormack (sic) as Juliet in Paris, The New York Times, July 22, 1926
  6. ^ Mary McCormic Hailed, The New York Times, July 24, 1929
  7. ^ Music in Paris, Time, Aug. 1, 1927
  8. ^ After Singing Career, Mary McCormic Enjoys Home Life, Amarillo Globe-Times, pg. 33, Feb 10, 1966
  9. ^ Temperamental? Not Mary Mary McCormic – But She's Still Opera's Glamar Gal, Mansfield News Journal (Ohio), Jan. 20, 1938, pps 1 & 6
  10. ^ Harris Services This Afternoon, Amarillo Daily News, pg. 8., col 2, Nov 11, 1946
  11. ^ Funeral for Mrs. Harris is Held Today, Amarillo Globe-Times, pg. 5., col 1, Jan 3, 1930
  12. ^ Willard Harris Dies at Age 57, Amarillo Daily News, pgs 1 & 15, Mar 25, 1949
  13. ^ Norbort Harris Dies in Railway Accident, Amarillo Globe-Times, pg. 3., col 2, Feb 14, 1944
  14. ^ Texas, a Guide to the Lone Star State, by Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Texas, Federal Writers' Project (1940)
  15. ^ Arkansas: A Guide to the State, pg. 364, WPA (1941)
  16. ^ Arkansas: A Guide to the State, pg. 213, compiled by the WPA (1941)
  17. ^ Mary McCormic to Sing at C.I.A. December 10, The Denton Record-Chronicle, Dec 6, 1929
  18. ^ Central Arkansas Counties Biographical and Historical Memoirs > Biographical and Historical Memoirs (1889)
  19. ^ Laverne Hanners (1921-1998), Girl on a Pony, University of Oklahoma Press (1998)
  20. ^ Basil Woon, My Fake Marriage, Liberty (magazine), Nov 14, 1933, New York
  21. ^ Obituaries, Chicago Daily Tribune, Sec C, pg. 11, April 17, 1956
  22. ^ Prince is Divorced by Mary M'Cormic, The New York Times, Nov 15, 1933
  23. ^ New York Journal American, Nov. 26, 1936
  24. ^ Amarillo Daily News, Nov ?, 1936
  25. ^ Famous Singer Changes Tune: Uses "Obey" in her Fourth Wedding Ceremony, San Antolio Light, Nov. 26, 1936
  26. ^ I marry 'em, why can't you count 'em? singer asks? Syracuse Herald Journal, Oct. 27, 1939
  27. ^ HEADS Data – Special Report, 2009-10, National Association of Schools of Music Note: For more than 20 years, North Texas Music enrollment has tracked closely to that of Indiana. Institutions that include Berklee, Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music are not among the 627 NASM members. One non-NASM music school has a student enrollment larger than North Texas – Berklee.
    North Texas Indiana
    2006-07 1,649 1,638
    2007-08 1,659 1,633
    2008-09 1,608 1,554
    2009-10 1,635 1,557
  28. ^ The Denton Record-Chronicle, pg. 4, col. 6 Nov 20 1958
  29. ^ Mary Garden to Supervise NTex Opera, The Denton Record-Chronicle, Dec 22, 1950

External links[edit]

Mary is buried at Llano Cemetery, Amarillo in section D, lot 6 space 1 (Feb. 12, 1981). By her is:
Pat Harris, Section D lot 6 space 1A (Feb. 22, 1993)
Mary Elizabeth Harris, Section D lot 6 space 2 (Feb. 6, 1990)
Willard Harris, Section D lot 6 space 2 (Mar. 26, 1949)