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The Soprano: 1920

The Soprano: 1920

      "Robert Murray, boy soprano with a voice reaching to the D which falls on the sixth ledger line above the treble clef, said to be the highest voice on record, has been astonishing New York City. His imitations of bird calls at a concert given at the Hippodrome are said to have been remarkable." -- The Etude, January 1922

November 1920. New York. "Murray singing 'Queen of Night'." Robert Murray, "phenomenal boy soprano" from Tacoma, Washington. 5x7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection. View full size.


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House & Voice Change

The Murray's house is now 10 rental flats and the website for the rental company states, "Robert’s music career ended abruptly when he reached puberty, his voice changed, and he lost his extraordinary talent for high notes." The home was built in 1899 - 1900 according to the website and that Robert was adopted by the Murrays.

Yodeling to the rescue

The famous "Queen of the Night" piece with its piercing, stratospheric, wine glass shattering high notes is a standard tour de force for boy sopranos with big lungs and vocal cords of steel.

In fact, the most challenging notes in that piece are not that hard to hit via the strategy of yodeling rather than singing. But when all is said and done, the enduring appeal of girls is a fair trade off for the temporary ability to fly off the top of the treble clef.

Koenigen Der Nacht

Rumor has it that Mozart wrote the part of the Queen of the Night, in Die Zauberfloete (The Magic Flute) for a soprano he didn't like. I've sung part of that role in a scene recital and it was a BEAST!

High-Pitched Voice, High-Pitched Roof

Quite a detailed story (1921) here about his physiology and some commentary by the musical "names" of the day:

Father was evidently then Tacoma's former city attorney; interesting architect-designed house (1901):

Did he notice the smell?

Boy sopranos weren't the only performers at the Hippodrome. There were many touring circus companies in those days, and the Hippodrome was a regular stop for several of them.

In the early 1930's, workers building the Sixth Avenue IND subway adjacent to the Hippodrome kept complaining of a strong, unpleasant, but unfamiliar odor in the tunnel. Some workers actually were overcome by the stench and had to be carried up to fresh air. It took weeks of investigations before engineers were able to identify the strange odor.

Circuses have elephants, and naturally enough elephants produce ample quantities of manure. For many years Hippodrome employees had thrown the manure into a basement storage room that was walled off from the rest of the structure. Over time it fermented, and the resulting odor seeped through the unfinished walls of the adjacent subway tunnel.

By that time the Hippodrome had fallen on hard times, a victim of the Great Depression and changing tastes in entertainment. It closed in 1939 and was demolished soon after.

Poor kid

I bet he got a lot of Slushies thrown in his face by the Jocks.

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