Lucy Isabelle Marsh

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Lucy Isabelle Marsh
Background information
Also known as Anna Howard
Born (1878-04-10)April 10, 1878
Died January 20, 1956(1956-01-20) (aged 77)
Genres Stage musical & Screen Classical
Occupation(s) Soprano, Artist
Instruments Performer & Soprano (Vocal)
Years active 1903–1924

Lucy Isabelle Marsh (April 10, 1878 – January 20, 1956) was an American lyric soprano[1] who made her career as a professional recording artist for the Victor Talking Machine Company. She was an anonymous mainstay of the regular recording program of the company from 1909 into the late 1920s. At the same time, she quickly won popular and critical recognition under her own name as a major artist on recordings for Victor.



Marsh obtained training in Paris under Baldelli, and under Trabadelo, who also taught Mary Garden.[2] She studied under John Walter Hall in New York.[3]


Marsh sang in church choirs, and became lead soprano in important churches in New York City. As a Flower Maiden in the opera "Parsifal" she is known to have given nine performances at the Metropolitan Opera between November 1904 and March 1905.[4] In 1908 she recorded three sides for Columbia Records.

In 1909 Marsh was engaged by The Victor Talking Machine Company, beginning a dual career as a "recording artist" and as a technically and artistically accomplished singer. Although she occasionally appeared on stage, she was known mostly through her many recordings.

The "recording artist" was essential to the commercial success of recording companies such as Victor in the days of acoustic recording technology, roughly from 1903 through 1924.[5] Singers were required whose sound quality registered well through a mechanical diaphragm, who were reliable workers, and who were quick studies at learning the latest song or an arrangement prepared for a recording. Such singers had to master the techniques of singing into a horn, which included knowing the best distance from the horn to stand for their voice, how to back off to avoid blasting and move forward for soft passages, how to adopt a position to blend with a partner or change positions to maintain the best balance when alternating lead passages with a partner or accompanist. Marsh herself left a description of the situation.[6]

The Victor Talking Machine Company employed several fine singers as recording artists in the two decades preceding the introduction of electrical recording in 1925. The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Records, a project of researchers based at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has now published the information contained in the session ledgers of Victor through 1922, supplemented with other sources.[7] Examination of the database, made available on line, shows that Victor used these singers as anonymous members of ensembles such as the Trinity Choir, and the Lyric Quartet, to produce recordings of "standards" and selections from current shows. Victor also afforded these artists occasional solo and ensemble recordings under their own names, some more and some less.

A popular specialty of the Victor company was the production of "Gems from" operas, operettas and shows. These were attributed not to individual singers but to the Victor Opera Company, or Victor Light Opera Company. "Gems" were arrangements of fragments or medleys of selected numbers. A purchaser could expect to hear snatches of the most popular tunes and choruses, usually ending with an upbeat number. Production required several singers to collaborate by stepping forward at the proper time to sing solos into the horn and back for choral numbers. "Gems" averaged four and a half minutes, with the exception of those shows or operas containing enough material to merit two sides of a 12" 78rpm record. Over twenty-five percent of the Marsh matrices made between 1909 and 1922 were "Gems". Another thirty-eight percent (38%)were as a member of the Trinity Choir or Lyric Quartet, performing religious numbers or standards, and were also unattributed.

Marsh did stand out, however, in the number and quality of her solo recordings. About a quarter of the matrices, in the production of which Marsh participated, were solo recordings attributed to her on the label. At her first session for Victor, Marsh recorded "Angels ever bright and fair" from Handel's Theodora, an aria which is a test for the most accomplished soprano. Soon thereafter, Marsh solo recordings were moved from the Victor black label series, to the purple label series, an exclusive position midway between black labels and the highly promoted Red Seal series. She also recorded a few titles for Victor under the name of Anna Howard.[2]

Artistic Legacy[edit]

Collectors of recordings of vocal music who handle 78 rpm shellac records, particularly those made before 1925, can not escape repeated contact with the plentiful products of Lucy Isabelle Marsh. In particular, aficionados of the classical repertory find that her recordings of classical standards often compare very favorably to those made by singers who had substantial stage careers. In 1957 Aida Favia-Artsay, a perceptive critic of classical singing, gave this assessment.[8]

After a few turns of a Marsh disc, it becomes apparent that ... she could have had a brilliant operatic career. As far as voice goes, hers had all the requisites; and as for its production – a little more work in the chest register would have brought it up to par. Otherwise, she was musical, intelligent, resourceful, and obviously had a sound knowledge of the vocal technicalities. A pity that while her French was passable, her Italian left much to be desired.[8]

Favia-Artsay's evaluation of several of her acoustic records provides detail for this assessment. A few selected quotations follow: The Nightingale (Alyabyev): "Exquisite timbre, individual voice – of virginal purity, round and equal. Precise chromatic scale, also the trill. Judicious phrasing and breath distribution." Spring's Awakening (Sanderson) "... Flowing, smooth coloratura. Phrasing fine:" O for the wings of a dove (Mendelssohn) "sings with subtle feeling. Not showy, but very artistic. Really an amazingly polished singer. Can hold her own with some of our best recording artists; and even top a few in some cases." Italian street song (Herbert) "Indeed, a brilliant piece of vocalization." [8]

A generation later Michael Scott opined, "she was a particularly fine duet singer; with McCormack in 'Parle-moi de ma mère' from Carmen, she contrives a ravishing effect with her sweet and steady tones." [9] Some of her later records made with a microphone were also held in high regard. Kutsch-Riemens speaks of "... masterly conceived recordings of arias from the Messiah and the oratorios of Mendelssohn and Rossini.".[10]

Personal life[edit]

Marsh married Walter Colwell Gordon, a medical doctor, in 1910, and moved to Providence, Rhode Island. She had two sons, Calvin and Walter; Calvin also became a doctor, and Walter was a sales manager for several national companies. Marsh had four grandchildren. She died at age seventy-seven. [2]

Per Lucy Marsh's oldest grandchild (the only one born before she died):

Lucy and her husband had a grand house with three floors plus a basement at 118 Princeton Avenue, Providence, RI - built possibly as long ago as the early 1800s. The music room where Lucy taught lessons was on the first floor of the house. The property included a large lawn and a carriage house, which was converted to a medical office for Lucy's husband, a physician (General Practitioner).

Lucy Marsh and her husband also enjoyed time at their beach house at Point Judith, RI. The beach house was destroyed by a strong hurricane in 1938.

One of the clearest memories of Lucy's grandchild was the very formal family dinners. Lucy sat at the head of the table, with house staff coming in to serve on queue when Lucy rang a bell for each course.

To the best recollection of her grandchild, Lucy never spoke of her family, any siblings, where she was from, etc. None of Lucy's relatives attended the formal family dinners. Lucy's family lineage was Dutch.

Lucy employed a nanny to care for her two sons, as she was often away from home working at the Met or traveling overseas for work. Lucy is remembered by her granddaughter as a nice person, but someone who always maintained a fairly composed, formal demeanor even with family members.

Lucy's granddaughter does remember very fondly listening to Lucy Marsh sing at home, as well as teaching voice lessons to up and coming singers including Roberta Peters. A particularly found memory was witnessing Lucy at the piano with her son, Walter, standing by her, as they sung Oh Danny Boy as a duet.

Lucy was challenged with physical ailments in her later years, resulting in her being bedridden for much of her last three to five years of life. It's unclear what specific ailments she suffered from, or the specific cause of her death. Much to the dismay and frustration off her husband, the physician, Lucy was often resistant to accepting medical care.

Hit records[edit]

Year Single US
1908 "The Glow-Worm"
(from the Broadway musical The Girl Behind the Counter)
1910 "My Hero"
(from the Broadway musical The Chocolate Soldier)
"Ring O' Roses"
(with Harry Macdonough; from the Broadway musical The Dollar Princess)
"Every Little Movement"
(with Harry Macdonough; from the Broadway musical Madame Sherry)
1911 "Italian Street Song"
(with the Victor Light Opera Co.; from the Broadway musical Naughty Marietta)
"My Beautiful Lady"
(from the Broadway musical The Pink Lady)
1912 "Melody of Love"
(from the Broadway musical Gypsy Love)
"The Maids of Cadiz (Les Filles de Cadiz)"
(non-Broadway musical release)
"To the Land of My Own Romance (I Have a Dream, By Night, By Day)"
(from the Broadway musical The Enchantress)
1913 "Homeland"
(from the Broadway musical The Merry Countess)
1915 Aida - O Terra Addio ("Farewell, Oh Earth")
(with John McCormack; non-Broadway musical release)
1916 "Just a-Wearyin' for You"
(non-Broadway musical release)
1917 "Babes in the Wood"
(with Harry Macdonough; from the Broadway musical Very Good Eddie)
1921 "Deep in Your Eyes"
(from the Broadway musical The Half Moon)
1922 "The Song of Love"
(with Royal Dadmun; from the Broadway musical Blossom Time)

All the above were released by Victor, except for "The Glow-Worm", which was released by Columbia.



  1. ^ "National Jukebox", Lucy Isabelle Marsh, Library of Congress, retrieved August 23, 2011 
  2. ^ a b c Tim Gracyk, with Frank Hoffman, Popular American Recording Pioneers, 1895–1925, 2000, pp. 230–233 (Haworth Press: Binghamton, N.Y.) ISBN 1-56024-993-5.
  3. ^ "Victor Records, November, 1916" (Catalog issued by the Victor Talking Machine Company, copyright 1916), no page numbers.
  4. ^ "Annals of the Metropolitan Opera 1883–1985", Gerald Fitzgerald, Editor in Chief, 1989 (G.K. Hall & Co., Boston) p. 157.
  5. ^ Gracyk, pp. 11–26.
  6. ^ Gracyk (pp. 15–16, 23-24) quotes the interview in the Providence Journal, March 23, 1913.
  7. ^ Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Records (EDVR) (downloaded 1 April 2010).
  8. ^ a b c Aida Favia-Artsay, "Lucy Isabelle Marsh," Hobbies - The Magazine for Collectors", (June 1957), pp. 27–28. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "AFA" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  9. ^ Michael Scott, The Record of Singing, Volume Two: 1914–1925 (Gerald Duckworth & Co., Ltd., London, 1979) (ISBN 0-7156-1341-3), pp. 139–140.
  10. ^ K.J.Kutsch and Leo Riemens (translated and annoted by Harry Earl Jones) A Concise Biographical Dictionary of Singers (Chilton Book Company: Philadelphia, 1969, p. 274.
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories: 1890-1954. Record Research. ISBN 0-89820-083-0. 


  • Tim Gracyk, with Frank Hoffmann, Popular American Recording Pioneers, 1895–1925 (Haworth Press, Binghamton, New York, 2000) (ISBN 1-56024-993-5), pp. 230–233.

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