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Aurora violinist to get Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

Violinist Maud Powell from Aurorwill be getting Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award this month. Here Powell who passed away 1920 signs

Violinist Maud Powell from Aurora will be getting a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award this month. Here Powell, who passed away in 1920, signs one of her records. | Submitted

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Updated: February 13, 2014 6:42AM



Trivia/News question of the day: What do Liverpool’s The Beatles and Aurora’s Maud Powell have in common?

Both rock band and violinist, it was announced last week, will be receiving the 2014 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

OK, I realize there’s a good chance the majority of you know quite a bit more about the Fab Four than you do Maud, despite the fact this child prodigy was once a local celebrity whose dad led Aurora schools and whose family home still stands at 16 N. West St.

Powell was born Aug. 22 1867, in Peru, Ill., but at age 3 moved here, where she attended Center School, now the site of East Aurora’s school district office. She began violin lessons at age 7, and by age 9 was traveling to Chicago solo (to save train fare) to study with a master teacher.

Then, when she was 13, her father sold the family home so Maud’s mother and brother could travel across the ocean and accompany the musical prodigy in her studies with the world’s best in Paris and Berlin. According to a biography of her, when it was time for the young musician to leave, Aurora staged a “grand farewell concert at the Coulter Opera House.”

Sure, Paul, Ringo, George and John stirred up Beatlemania here in America. But Maud created the same kind of international sensation in Europe. After touring the world, she made her New York debut at age 18, and performed with the New York Philharmonic in November of 1885. Then – again, according to her biography – she devoted her life to “bringing classical music to North America; traveling tirelessly by train to every city, town and hamlet she could squeeze into her schedule. She premiered works by Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Sibelius, and “raised up the American Negro spiritual as an art form by combining those songs with more-expected concert fare.” She also faithfully championed American composers and women composers.

In addition to conquering the traditional concert stage, Powell, who had already broken the glass ceiling on women musicians, became a star of the newest audio technology, according to a press release announcing her Grammy achievement.

“In 1904 she made the first solo-instrument recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company’s celebrity series, and until her untimely death of a heart attack at the age of 52 in 1920, recorded prolifically.”

Maud Powell, history shows, returned many times to Aurora to play. And no doubt, had she lived a couple generations later, Ed Sullivan would have asked her to be on his show.

It’s certainly no surprise Powell was a shoo-in for the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame’s charter class in 2002. Rachel Barton Pine, one of Chicago’s premiere violinists and a child prodigy herself, performed in Powell’s honor at the Roundhouse for that ceremony. Pine also nominated Powell for this prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be presented Jan. 24 in Los Angeles, and will be announced at the televised 56th Annual Grammy Awards two days later on CBS.

“I’m excited,” about the Grammy recognition, said Fox Valley Arts President Susan Starrett, whose group will be introducing the next class of inductees into the Hall of Fame Jan. 23 at the Batavia Public Library.

Starrett, a violinist herself, said she has two grandmothers named after Powell, one of whom was born in Pennsylvania on the same night the violinist performed a recital nearby.

The more you get to know this extraordinary musician, she told me, the more fascinated you become. Not only was Powell’s father William a leading educator, both here and in Washington, D.C., her mother Minnie and aunts were part of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and her uncle, John Wesley Powell, was founder of the National Geographic Society.

As for the woman herself, Maud may not have gotten the media exposure of the Fab Four. But she was a rock star in her own time.

And that should be music to Fox Valley ears.



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