Party honors legendary Aurora musician
By Linda Girardi For Sun-Times Media February 1, 2014 6:11PM
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
Updated: March 6, 2014 6:19AM
Virtuoso Maud Powell had performed on the stage of the Coulter Opera House in 1880 in downtown Aurora, two blocks from where a group of admirers came to celebrate her life more than a century later.
On Friday, the Aurora Historical Society celebrated the life of Powell, since she recently was awarded the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement. The Historical Society held a party at the Pierce Art and History Center on Downer Place to honor Powell, who died in 1920.
The Aurora woman discovered her love for the violin when a traveling artist came to the city to perform, studied among the finest music teachers and continued her education abroad with some of the great composers. Her father was superintendent of Aurora schools and was considered a “visionary” educator for his time.
John Jaros, executive director of the Aurora Historical Society, said Powell was the first solo instrumental artist to record for the Victor Talking Machine Company’s Celebrity Artists series.
She recorded from 1904 until her death at age 52, yet her accomplishments as a national and international musician have been remembered mostly by those close to the classical music world.
“It is long overdue,” Jaros said of Powell’s Grammy, presented Jan. 25 in Los Angeles. “It is interesting how fame is so fleeting.”
The Aurora Historical Society has two of her original records and playbills of local performances, as well as an original signed photograph of Powell in its collection.
“I was shocked to hear she received a Grammy all these years later,” said Jeannie Norris, of Aurora.
On display for public viewing were numerous photocopies of the original playbills, including one from her performance at age 12 in March 1880 with Stein’s Chorus at the Coulter Opera House at Downer Place and Broadway Avenue, and her farewell concert in June of 1881 before she went to study in Europe.
Jay Harriman in 2001 produced a series of Millennium Moments for Aurora when most people were not aware of her accomplishments.
“She was recording when they were first developing records,” Harriman said.
According to her biography, “Maud Powell — Pioneer American Violinist,” the musician married H. Godfrey Turner, her manager and friend. Author Karen Shaffer said the violinist showed the world women can play the violin and perform on stage, as well as hold a career even in marriage. Plans already are in the making to honor Powell on her 150th birthday in 2017.
Mary Ormond, president of the Aurora Historical Society, said the Grammy will be held at the Maud Powell Society for Music and Education in Brevard, N.C. She said Maud memorabilia are widespread: her favorite violin is in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., and a famous portrait of her is in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
“She belonged to all of America,” Ormond said.
Ormond said Powell traveled endlessly to all corners of the world to spread her mission of music.
“Maud brought music to the masses and elevated the taste of a pioneer nation,” Ormond said.
Dajah Miller, 11, was admiring a life-size cutout of the artist and her records. Dajah plays the flute in school at Nancy Hill Elementary.
“I think it is cool that she received a Grammy,” Dajah said.