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Elsie McDermid (1889-1933) - Operatic Singer

Early Life of Promise

  Elsie Maybelle McDermid was born in Middlesbrough 19 July 1889, the first child of Colin and Martha McDermid.

  Colin was a Land Surveyor & District Engineer who moved with his family from Middlesbrough to Jubilee Road, Eston when he obtained employment with Eston Council.   In about 1904 the family moved to a newly built house on the High Street, Eston which they named "Greenbank"  (which still stands on the High Street, Eston .)

  Elsie Maybelle attended the County School Eston till January 23rd 1905 when she was enrolled in Middlesbrough High School.   In the early 20th century when Elsie attended it was a fee paying school.

  From an early age Elsie must have shown a singing talent so she was enrolled with a singing teacher - Mrs Clara Whatford in Middlesbrough.   Middle class children in those days who had any kind of talent would have been given every encouragement - unlike working class children who would have started their working life at an early age or, in the case of girls, be expected to help in the home.

Local Performances

  There are a number of newspaper reports dating from the first in March 1906   of her singing at charity events - many connected to Eston Congregational Church, with which her family appear to have a strong link.
(See reports dated Mar 1907Jan 1910Dec 1910 )

  When the census was taken in 1911 she had seemingly decided on her future career as Colin (her father) had entered her as a “professional vocalist”

  The last event found of her entertaining locally is at the Middlesbrough Town Hall on 27th February 1911.
  Sometime after this she went to London where she studied under Nellie Rowe.   Helen Lucy Rowe or Nellie Rowe as she was known professionally was an Australian, born c1861 who trained with the same teacher as Dame Nellie Melba.   She didn't have the same success as her (Melba) but performed in quite a number of venues around Britain.

National Performances

  Elsie's professional debut was at Covent Garden in 1914 where she had a minor role as a Flower Maiden in Parsifal.   In December 1914 she joined the D'Oyley Carte Opera Company as a principal soprano.   She toured all around Britain till 1917 taking leading roles with them.   When the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company toured in the early part of the 20th century they would visit a town or city for a week and perform a different Gilbert & Sullivan opera each night. (See report dated 12 Sep 1916 )
  This must have been quite a hectic life - standing on station platforms waiting for connections & living out of a suitcase.

  By 1920 she was with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden and performed in many operas for the company.
(See report dated 29 May 1920 )
  She also made a radio broadcast in November 1923.

Loss to Opera

  In 1933 Elsie left her home in Edith Grove, Chelsea and returned to “Greenbank” Eston.   According to her obituary this was to recuperate from an illness but after a few weeks she died there on 2nd May 1933. (See Announcement and Obituary )   Elsie is buried in Eston Cemetery with other members of her family - there is no headstone to mark her grave.

Transcription of Obituary (Gazette May 1933)

                   TEES-SIDE “STAR'S” DEATH
  When the Covent Garden grand opera season opened brilliantly on Monday night, one popular artist was absent from the stage she had graced for many years.
  She was Miss Elsie McDermid, the distinguished Tees-side soprano, who died after several weeks illness, at the age of 43, at “Greenbank” Eston, the home of her mother.
  Prior to Easter, Miss McDermid was actively rehearsing for her roles for the Covent Garden season. One of her parts was in “Der Rosenkavalier” but her voice was not heard when this opera was broadcast on Monday night.
                          BORN IN MIDDLESBROUGH
  In the course of rehearsals she became ill, and returned home in the hope of recuperating.
  Miss McDermid, who was born in Middlesbrough, had an interesting career as an operatic singer. She was the eldest daughter of Mr Colin McDermid, former surveyor for the Eston Urban District Council, who died this year, and Mrs Martha McDermid. At an early age she showed remarkable promise as a vocalist, and figured on many Tees-side concert platforms.
  After attending the Middlesbrough Girls High School, she became a pupil of Mrs Whatford, a Middlesbrough teacher of singing, and later studied under Miss Nellie Rowe in London.
  So confident was Miss Rowe of the ability of her pupil that she recommended her to the notice of Mr Rupert D'Oyly Carte, who on hearing her immediately engaged her for the starring parts in his repertoire of Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
                        FAME WITH D'OYLY CARTE
  She had promptly to learn the leading roles for “The Mikado”,   “Pirates of Penzance”,   "Patience”,   “The Gondoliers” and “Iolanthe” prior to the opening of a tour. She was then 24 years of age.
  From 1914 to 1917 she was associated with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and in the course of this time visited every large town in the British Isles.
  Later she became identified with the grand opera seasons at Covent Garden, and had the distinction of appearing in “Parsifal” when it was played for the first time in this country.
                            VERSATILE ARTIST
  During the seasons when she regularly appeared at the Covent Garden she undertook a wide variety of parts.
  Another distinction she attained was as a member of the Tudor Singers, chosen from choirs throughout Britain, to sing at the Paris Exhibition two years ago.
  The funeral will take place on Friday, at 2 pm, a service to be held at the Eston Congregational Church

[Thanks to Teesside Archives & David Stone for their help]
© 2012   Joan Outhwaite.    Normanby History Group

Obituary from Gazette May 1933