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ADA JEMIMA CROSSLEY, 1871 - 1929, “AUSTRALIA’S NIGHTINGALE”

This postcard has two N.S.W. stamps, the ½d green and 1d. red and they are postmarked with a faint Sydney suburb MARRICKVILLE/ AU 7/ 10 PM/ 04/ N.S.W duplex cancel. The SYDNEY/ AU 8/ 5.30-AM/ 04/ 43 duplex confirms the former date. The postcard is addressed to a Honolulu, Hawaii address (Figure 1)

 

Figure 1: Click to enlarge.

 

The reverse of the Talma & Co. Melbourne and Sydney, copyright postcard shows Miss Ada Crossley in magnificent attire and the sender has added a manuscript ‘Australia’s Nightingale’ (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: Click to enlarge.

 

Ada Crossley, a singer was born on 3 March 1871 at Tarraville, Gippsland, Victoria, daughter of Edward Wallis Crossley, ironmonger, and his wife Harriette, née Morris, both from Northamptonshire, England. Ada was sixth surviving child in a family of twelve children, 'a regular rough bush youngster I was with my auburn pigtail'. She took piano lessons when 7 from Mrs Hastings of Port Albert, and between 12 and 15 played the organ and led the singing at the three village churches. Later Ada studied pianoforte and harmony with the elder Alberto Zelman in Melbourne.

When it became apparent that Ada had a voice of great promise, her parents allowed her to take lessons with Madame Fanny Simonsen, on the condition that she never sang opera. One of her first public appearances in Melbourne was in November 1889 when she took part in the third Philharmonic Subscription Concert in the town hall. In the next four years she sang frequently in Melbourne at oratorios and concerts, including the popular promenade concerts organized by W. J. Turner, and was principal contralto in the choir of at the Australian Church, a free religious fellowship in Sydney, of which Charles Strong was the first minister.

Prior to leaving Australia for England in March 1894 she gave farewell concerts in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. In London she studied with (Sir) Charles Santley for oratorio and for some 7 months in Paris with Madame Mathilde Sanchesi for voice production. Her London debut was at the Queen’s Hall in May 1895, but her big opportunity came when she substituted for Clara Butt at a moment’s notice at a concert in Manchester.

For many years she held a leading place at music festivals and on the concert platform, and five command performances were given by her before Queen Victoria in 2 years. She was also successful in America, and on returning to Australia in 1903-04, her tour was a series of triumphs. Whilst in America she recorded for the Victor Gramophone Company’s Red Seal Celebrity series, at Carnegie Hall in New York.. She visited South Africa, and her second tour in Australia in 1908-09 was again very successful.

She claimed a repertoire of 500 sacred songs and ballads, ranging from Gluck and Handel to Richard Strauss, and she sang in English, German, French, Italian, Norwegian, Danish and Russian. On 11 April 1905 she married Mr. Francis Frederick Muecke C.B.E. FRCS, a throat specialist. There were no children of this union. A signed picture of her as Ada Crossley-Muecke is shown in Figure 3.

 

Figure 3: Click to enlarge.

 

Ada had a charming personality and had hosts of friends in both England and Australia. Her voice had delightful evenness of quality, and its production was beautifully natural. She appealed to every class of audience in ballad concerts, in oratorio, and in recitals of classic songs. Her renderings of the Agnus Dei from Bach's B minor Mass, and of the solo part in Brahm's Rhapsody, have been especially mentioned as being among her highest achievements. A portrait of her (ca. 1903, by Rupert Bunny) is shown in Figure 4.

 

Figure 4: Click to enlarge.

 

Ada died on 17 October 1929 at ‘Woodlands Park’, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England.

This account of Ada’s short career is a composite of 3 main sources, ‘Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians’; the http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/AWE0560b.htm website http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs.htm and, the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 
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