Swarthout, Gladys


American mezzo-soprano at Met 1929-66, appeared in film and television, sang “America” in 1939 for FDR, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Diplomatic Corps


Type: Signature
Description: (1900-1969) Missouri-born mezzo-soprano opera singer and actress. While studying at Chicago’s Bush Conservatory of Music, she auditioned with the Chicago Civic Opera Company and got a contract, though at the time she didn’t know any operatic roles. When she debuted a few months later, she had memorized 23 parts and participated in over half of the season’s operas. She sang for the Ravinia Opera Company of Chicago for 3 seasons and debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in 1929 where she sang in 270+ performances until her 1966 Gala Farewell. Her role as Carmen was well respected, and she regularly worked 8 hours a day with vocal coaches, and spent an hour or more singing duets with her husband, Frank M. Chapman, Jr., also an opera singer. She wrote a popular 1943 semi-autobiographical novel, Come Soon, Tomorrow: The Story of a Young Singer that had at least 7 printings.

She appeared in 5 Paramount films, Rose of the RanchoGive Us This Night (1936), Champagne Waltz (1937), Romance in the Dark (1938), and Ambush (1939). For Champagne Waltz with Fred MacMurray, she sang in 5 languages, incl. French, German, Italian, and Spanish for the film’s foreign versions. Swarthout also performed on a number of TV opera shows. She did a January 1951 concert at the Met in one of her final public singing performances. She continued to make public appearances, incl. on TV in the early 50s and was often heard on radio programs, incl. those of General Motors, RCA-Magic Key, Camel Caravan, the Ford Symphony and the Prudential Family Hour. Time magazine reported in 1942 that she had earned $1.25M in her lifetime. One of her signature radio songs was Bless This House featured in advertising and commonly found framed in many American homes. In the 1930s-40s, Swarthout regularly toured with her husband and an accompanist thru various concert initiatives, incl. the National Civic Concert Association and the National Concert Service. 

She is the only woman to have sung for the entire assembled US Congress, the Diplomatic Corps, the Supreme Court, and President Roosevelt, singing “America” on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the First Session of Congress. During WW II Swarthout was a regular on Armed Forces Radio.

In 1956, she was diagnosed with a mitral heart valve problem and had open heart surgery, on the operating table for 6 hours. She later campaigned to ensure that parents knew the dangers of unsuspected rheumatic fever. In 1958, Dr. Paul Dudley White presented her with the American Heart Association’s 1st “Heart-of-the-Year” Award, given annually to a distinguished American whose faith and courage in meeting the personal challenge of heart disease inspired new hope for hearts. She wrote about her decision in When the Song Left My Heart in the October 1958 Everywoman’s Family Circle.

Signed 4 ½ x 6 pale yellow autograph album page (in person signature)

Condition: Very good, very slight smear in “w” of signature, minor spotting at lower right corner.

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