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Talley, Marion (1906–1983)

Talley, Marion (1906–1983)

American opera singer. Born Marion Nevada Talley on December 20, 1906, in Nevada, Missouri; died on January 3, 1983, in Beverly Hills, California; daughter of Charles Marion Talley and Helen H. (Brown) Talley; attended school in Kansas City, Missouri; studied voice with Ottley Cranston in Kansas City and Frank LaForge in New York; also studied piano and violin; coached in opera and languages in Italy for one year; married Michael Baucheisen (a German pianist), on June 30, 1932 (annulled January 1933); married Adolph Eckstrom, on March 23, 1935.

The daughter of a telegraph operator, Marion Talley was born in 1906 in Nevada, Missouri, a small railroad town outside of Kansas City, where she grew up. Displaying musical talent at a young age, she began singing with the church choir when she was five years old. She studied piano and violin as a child and, impressed by her talents, local music lovers arranged a benefit concert, at which she sang, to help finance her career. The benefit earned $10,000.

In 1922, Talley moved to New York, where she studied with Frank LaForge. When her money ran out two years later, she returned to Kansas City and earned $13,000 by giving four concerts. She then traveled to Italy to further her musical studies, returning to the United States in 1925. Widely promoted as a great American singer from humble roots, she made her highly publicized Metropolitan Opera House debut on February 17, 1926. Thousands of opera fans waited in lines for tickets that sold for as much as $100. Her performance as Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto, however, did not live up to the expectations of critics. She was considered a pleasant but not important soprano. Wrote Olin Downes: "She has a voice of uncommonly fresh and lovely quality…. However, she has not at the present the artistic knowledge to make the most of her gifts." That same year she also sang "Caro Nome" from Rigoletto in a film of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, which was shown at the Warner Theater in New York City, making her the first woman to sing in a film. Talley remained with the Metropolitan Opera for three seasons and performed in several operas, including Lucia, The Magic Flute, and Le Chant du Rossignol; she also performed in many recitals.

After leaving the Metropolitan, Talley successfully ran a wheat farm in Colby, Kansas, for a few years. In 1934, she returned to music and began touring around the country, in addition to appearing on radio programs. In 1936, she appeared as a

feature singer in the movie Follow Your Heart. She also recorded arias by Rossini and Verdi as well as concert songs on the Victor label.


Ewen, David, comp. and ed. Living Musicians. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1940.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan

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