Thebom, Blanche (1918—)

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Thebom, Blanche (1918—)

American mezzo-soprano. Pronunciation: Ta'bom. Born in 1918 in Monessen, Pennsylvania; studied under Margarete Matzenmauer and Edyth Walker.

Debuted with the Metropolitan Opera (1944); appeared in musical sequence in the film When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (1944); retired (1970).

Born in Pennsylvania in 1918 and raised in Canton, Ohio, mezzo-soprano Blanche Thebom began to study piano and voice with her parents at age eight. She attended public schools in Canton and sang in school and church choirs. Although she hoped to go to college, the effects of the Depression made college impossible to afford, and Thebom instead enrolled in a vocational school to learn clerical skills. She had worked as a secretary for several years when her vocal talent was discovered during an impromptu concert onboard a ship bound for Sweden in 1938. A well-known concert pianist, Kosti Vehanen, was in the audience. Vehanen, renowned for his work as an accompanist to the great contralto Marian Anderson , was so impressed by the strength and emotional range of Thebom's voice that he gave her a letter of introduction to a New York voice teacher. When Thebom's employer offered to pay her way, she moved to New York in 1939 with her parents' encouragement.

After two years of intensive study under Edyth Walker , Thebom made her professional debut at a recital in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1941. She then sang with the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as in countless small towns, followed by contracts with the Minneapolis Symphony in 1943 and New York's Town Hall in early 1944. Widely praised by critics, Thebom soon signed with the Twentieth Century-Fox studio to sing in the film When Irish Eyes are Smiling. She opened at the Metropolitan Opera House in December 1944 and played the 1944–45 season there. Throughout the 1960s, Thebom would perform regularly at the Metropolitan, usually in dramatic roles, to rave reviews. In 1948, she opened at the Philadelphia All-Star Concert Series. In addition to repeated appearances in San Francisco and Chicago, Thebom also made numerous recordings and was frequently featured on classical radio programs. She was also the first American to sing with the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow.

In the late 1960s, Thebom joined the music faculty of the University of Arkansas. In 1970, she retired from performing, and in 1973 was named director of the Hot Springs National Park Foundation for the Performing Arts. She then moved to San Francisco to teach privately. In 1988, she founded the Opera Arts Training Program in San Francisco and served as its director.


"Blanche Thebom," in Current Biography 1948. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1948.

Morehead, Philip D. The New International Dictionary of Music. NY: Meridian, 1991.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California