Louise Homer

International Opera Star and Classical Recording Artist

Louise Homer was one of the most talented and popular opera singers of the early twentieth century.  She had a two-decade career as a leading contra-alto with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She performed with Enrico Caruso and Marcella Sembrich under director Arturo Toscanini.  Along with her beautiful voice, she was greatly admired for her powerful acting and stage presence.  She sang many of the grandest roles in the Italian, French and, German operas.  Her notable roles were Amneris in Giuseppe Verdi's Aida, Orpheus in Toscanini's 1909 revival of Christoph Gluck's opera, the Witch in Engelbert Humperdinck's Königskinder, and the title role in Horatio Parker's Mona.   She also toured the country as a solo recitalist. 

Louise, a top selling artist on the Victor Talking Machine Company (RCA), was regarded as one of the first great classical recording artists.  She recorded from 1903 through 1929, singing arias, gospel hymns, and songs composed by her husband Sidney Homer.  She recorded duets with Caruso, Alma Gluck, and other opera stars.  Her recording of “Whispering Hope” with Alma Gluck was a national best seller.

Born Louise Dilworth Beatty in Pittsburgh in 1871, she was the daughter of Dr. William Trimble Beatty, founder of the Shadyside Presbyterian church.  Beatty Hall at Chatham College in named in hour of Dr. Beatty, who was one of the founders of the college.  She sang in the church choir with her eight brothers and sisters. When her father died in 1882, her mother moved the family to West Chester, Pa to be near her relatives.  She studied voice and made her public debut in Philadelphia with an performance of the cantana “Ruth the Moahitess”.  Louise graduated as valedictorian from West Chester High School.  To help support her family she worked as a stenographer and court reporter.  She continued to study singing with Abbie Whinnery and Alice Goff.  She also sang contralto in a church quartet.  In 1893 she quit her job and enrolled at New England Conservatory of Music.  Her composition instructor Sidney Homer (6 years her senior) accompanied Louise to a performance of Faust by the visiting Metropolitan Opera.  Disobeying her family’s religious beliefs it was the first theatrical performance she ever attended.  After that performance, Louise vowed that she would become an operatic artist. 

Louise wed Sidney Homer in 1895, had a child, and went off on borrowed money in 1896 with her husband to Paris for more vocal studies.  In Paris studied with drama with Paul Lhérie and voice with Fidélé König.  She made her professional debut as Louise Homer in 1898 in Vichy, France as Leonora in Gaetano Donizetti’s La favorita. She continued her early career appearing at for a season at Covent Garden in London in 1899.  Her performances at Covent Garden resulted in a Royal Command Performance. Appearing for a season in Brussel she had over 100 performances at the Théâtre de la Monnaie.  Maurice Grau of the Metropolitan Opera heard her sing in Paris and offered her a three year contract.  In 1900 she became an principal singer at the Metropolitan Opera in 1900, performing there until 1919.

Louise Homer found critical acclaim in 1908 for her performance as Orfeo in Toscanini's revival of Gluck's opera.  Operate Critic Richard Aldrich wrote of her  "nobility, dignity and plastic grace for the eye, and of full-throated and beautiful song for the ear."

Louise retired from the Met after the 1918 - 1919 season.  She sang for several seasons with the Chicago Civic Opera.  In 1927 and 1928 she returned to the Met for two celebrated guest appearances.  She toured the country appearing at recitals that included songs by her nephew, Samuel Barber.  Her older sister, Marguerite, was Barber's mother.

Louise and Sydney retired to Florida, where Louise became a vocal instructor at Rollins College. She taught vocal students until her death at age 76 in 1947.  While she was at the height of her singing career she raised six children with her noted composer husband Sidney Homer.  She was elected as one of the greatest American women by the National Association of Woman Voters.  : In 1939 Sidney Homer wrote “My Wife And I: The Story of Louise and Sidney Homer”.  Her daughter Anne Homer told Louise’s story in the 1973 biography “Louise Homer and the Golden Age of Opera”. 

Whispering Hope by Louise Homer and Alma Gluck

Louise Homer Singing Stephen Foster