The tenac­ity of so­prano Mar­jorie Lawrence

World fa­mous opera singer from Aus­tralia made the Spa City her home

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Lind­sey Wells, pho­tog­ra­phy cour­tesy of the Gar­land County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

The­life of Mar­jorie Lawrence is one of strength and en­durance, from her hum­ble begin­nings of grow­ing up on a farm in Aus­tralia, to find­ing star­dom as a world-renowned opera singer in her twen­ties, be­ing stricken with po­lio and par­a­lyzed at the age of 34, and re­turn­ing to the stage just one year later. The per­former would even­tu­ally make Hot Springs her home. Lawrence was born south of Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, in 1907, to butcher Wil­liam Lawrence and church or­gan­ist El­iz­a­beth Lawrence. Her mother died in 1909 and Lawrence was left to be raised by her fa­ther’s mother.

Hav­ing rec­og­nized her vo­cal tal­ents at a young age, Lawrence trav­eled to Mel­bourne with­out her fa­ther’s per­mis­sion to study voice. De­spite ex­treme fi­nan­cial hard­ship, she stud­ied un­der con­duc­tor and com­poser Cé­cile Gilly in France be­fore mak­ing her Euro­pean de­but in 1932, her per­for­mances at the Paris Opera caus­ing mu­sic crit­ics to hail her as one of the great­est so­pra­nos of all time.

Lawrence was a star. She made her Amer­i­can de­but with the Metropoli­tan Opera New York in 1935 and per­formed with the com­pany for six sea­sons, just six years be­fore mar­ry­ing the love of her life, os­teopath Dr. Thomas King, at the height of her ca­reer.

Dur­ing a re­hearsal in Mex­ico City, just three months af­ter the wed­ding, Lawrence sud­denly col­lapsed onto the stage. It was later de­ter­mined that she had been stricken with po­lio. Now al­most com­pletely par­a­lyzed in both legs, Dr. King brought his wife to Hot Springs in hopes of im­prov­ing her con­di­tion and al­le­vi­at­ing her pain with the ther­mal wa­ters. The cou­ple fell in love with the Spa City and pur­chased a 500-acre ranch on High­way 7 South just out­side of Hot Springs, which they named “Har­mony Hills.” This would re­main Lawrence’s home un­til just the last few years of her life.

With in­cred­i­ble brav­ery, still un­able to stand on her own two feet, Lawrence re­sumed her mu­si­cal ca­reer just 18 months later. She be­gan re­build­ing her ca­reer in 1942. Be­gin­ning in 1944, Lawrence

made ex­ten­sive tours over­seas to en­ter­tain troops, be­gin­ning with Aus­tralia in 1944, oc­cu­pied Europe in 1945 and 1948, and Viet­nam in 1966. She also sang at Buck­ing­ham Palace and the White House and con­tin­ued to per­form un­til 1952.

Mean­while, Lawrence had been work­ing on her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “In­ter­rupted Melody: The Story of My Life” be­came a best-seller and, in 1955, was made into a Hol­ly­wood film star­ring Eleanor Parker. The south­ern pre­miere of the film took place at the Malco Theatre in Hot Springs in 1955.

Lawrence then moved into tele­vi­sion, briefly host­ing a TV show from 1953-54 be­fore lean­ing more to­ward teach­ing voice in­stead of per­form­ing.

She was Pro­fes­sor of Voice at New­comb Col­lege in New Or­leans from 1956-60. From 1960-73, she was Pro­fes­sor of Voice and di­rec­tor of Opera Work­shop, later named The Mar­jorie Lawrence Opera Theatre, at South­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity in Car­bon­dale, Ill.

In 1974, Lawrence re­turned to Arkansas and be­gan teach­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock and Gar­land County Com­mu­nity Col­lege, now known as Na­tional Park Col­lege. For over 20 years, she held an­nual sum­mer work­shops in Hot Springs where her stu­dents per­formed for au­di­ences at the Ar­ling­ton Re­sort Ho­tel & Spa and in Christ­mas con­certs at the Con­ven­tion Au­di­to­rium.

Her fi­nal record­ing, “Waltz­ing Matilda,” was recorded in Aus­tralia in 1976.

On Sept. 17, 1978, the city of Hot Springs, her “adopted city,” hon­ored Lawrence when Mayor Tom Ellsworth pro­claimed that day Mar­jorie Lawrence Day.

Lawrence died of heart fail­ure in 1979 at a hos­pi­tal in Lit­tle Rock and was buried in Green­wood Ceme­tery in Hot Springs.

Af­ter giv­ing a Christ­mas per­for­mance for pa­tients at the Army and Navy Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, Mar­jorie Lawrence spoke to veter­ans con­fined to their beds.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.