The Edison Files: Maggie Teyte

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. No one knows for sure who the very first recording artist was. Here is a look at the early recording artists I have in my collection.



Dame Maggie Teyte was born on April 17, 1888, in Wolfverhampton, England. In March 1906, she made her debut in a series of Mozart concerts conducted by Reynaldo Hahn and in 1907 became a member of the Paris Opéra-Comique. After a few small parts, she was cast as Mélisande. To prepare for Pelléas et Mélisande, Teyte was sent to study with Debussy himself. In 1910, she conquered London audiences with her portrayals of Cherubino in Marriage of Figaro, Blonde in Abduction from the Seraglio, and Mélisande. Despite her early successes, Teyte had a difficult time finding a place for herself in the main opera houses of the world. She developed a following in Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, and sang in America through the end of World War I, but did not appear in New York. She married in 1921 and went into a period of semi-retirement. Upon the disruption of her marriage in the early 1930s, Teyte faced difficulties of resuming her career after an absence of nearly a decade. An Australian tour was a financial fiasco. Twice she attempted an American comeback but it seemed that the public had forgotten her. Teyte’s career was revived in 1936 by a set of recordings she made for EMI of Debussy songs accompanied by Alfred Cortot. Though the outbreak of the Second World War interrupted the progress of her “second career,” her recordings established her reputation in England and the United States as the leading French art singer of her time. In 1948, she made her first New York appearances: a Town Hall recital, followed by a series of performances of Pelléas at the City Center Opera. Teyte continued performing in opera until 1951 and on the concert stage until her retirement in 1955, at age 67. In 1958 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She died in London on May 26, 1976.

To listen to recordings by Maggie Teyte and other early recording artists, visit the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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