Walker, Edyth (1867–1950)

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Walker, Edyth (1867–1950)

American opera singer and teacher . Born Minnie Edith Walker on March 27, 1867, in Hopewell, New York; died on February 19, 1950, in New York City;daughter of Marquis de Lafayette Walker and Mary (Purdy) Walker; graduated from the Rome Free Academy in Rome, New York, 1884; studied with Anna Aglaia Orgeni at the Dresden Conservatory, Germany; never married.

Taught school in Rome, New York, for several years after graduation; made opera debut in Berlin (1894); was lead mezzo-soprano at Vienna's Imperial Opera (1898–1903); debuted at Metropolitan Opera in New York City as Amneris in Aïda (1903); left the Metropolitan (1906); debuted at Covent Garden, London (1908); joined Munich Opera (1912–17); retired from the opera (1918); taught at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau (1933–36).

Born in 1867, the youngest of six children in an upstate New York family, Edyth Walker showed an early talent for music; she was singing solo at her local church by age 14. Her family did little to encourage her ability, but thanks to a gift of $1,000 from a local doctor who had heard her sing, in 1889 Walker was able to travel to Germany to study under Anna Aglaia Orgeni , an acclaimed Hungarian coloratura soprano. To pay her way in Germany while studying there, Walker taught singing and English, and confidently asked a rich New Yorker who was then traveling in Vienna for financial backing. William K. Vanderbilt reportedly sent her $1,000 with only the request that he hear her sing when she had made a name for herself.

A year after her opera debut in Berlin as Fidés in Le Prophète, Walker went on to the Vienna Opera, where her performance of the lead role in Der Evangelimann in 1896 so dazzled the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph that he made her a Kammersängerin, the highest honor given in Austria and Germany to an opera singer. She debuted at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1903 to favorable reviews and spent three years there before leaving to return to Europe. Although she later signed a contract with the Chicago Opera, its cancellation upon the outbreak of World War I permanently ended her American performance career.

In Europe, the vibrant and talented Walker spent several years with the Berlin and Hamburg operas and later sang at London's Covent Garden, taking the lead in the English premiere of Elektra. After appearing with the Munich Opera for about five years, she retired and moved to Holland for a few years. She then taught in Paris for awhile, before returning once more to New York City to teach there, counting among her pupils Blanche Thebom and Irene Dalis . She died at age 82 and left her estate to the Christian Science Church, of which she was a member. An accomplished cellist as well as opera singer, Edyth Walker inspired her students and was one of the first Americans to gain success in German opera.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada