Harry Davies

Harry Davies

Risca, Caerphilly, Wales
Death 27 Oct 1925 (aged 59–60)
Clintonville, Waupaca County, Wisconsin, USA
Burial Bellefontaine Neighbors, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA
Memorial ID 53627314 · View Source
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Nothing is simple in this family. My great great uncle, Harry Davies was born William Harris in Wales about 1865, and somewhere along the line he changed his name, and like many a performer, it seems he changed his age a bit too. Besides his birth name of William Harris, and his most-used stage name of Harry Davies, it seems he may have used "William Davies" as well, at least in a 1921 brochure for his own opera company... but I suspect what happened was that he passed the Davies Opera Company on to his nephew, William Wilson, who then changed his surname to Davies to keep the name going. That has yet to proven, here's what we know.

Harry aka William, was born to William Harris and his first wife, Gwenllian Powell, as were his elder siblings Thomas (born 1862) and Charles (born 1863). Around the year of his birth, Harry/William's mother disappeared from records in Wales, perhaps passing in or due to childbirth. His father William remarried in September 1870 to Ann Davies, perhaps the inspiration for Harry's new stage name. Possibly she was the only mother he knew.

Harry was a Welsh tenor who had a touring company for light opera late in his life (about 1915-1925) and who sang with other opera companies as well. The censuses tell us he came to the United States in 1890, but he had a son, Charles Davies (perhaps named for his brother Charles) who was born that year to a mother born in Pennsylvania, so it means Harry would have had to work very fast for that to be true. Harry may not have married Charles' mother. Perhaps his immigration date will yet be shown to be earlier. Harry's son Charles is of interest because he married my grandpa's sister. This makes Harry my great great uncle, and Charles my great uncle.

In any case, Maude, the wife referred to in the obituary below is probably Harry's second or third spouse, and not my great uncle Charles' mother, since his mother was supposedly born in PA and Maud(e) (nee Risinger) had origins in Illinois, the daughter of Jasper and Queen Elizabeth Risinger. It is believed that Harry remarried (or at least contemplated it) about 1907 based on a surviving letter wherein he thanks his brother and sister for understanding that it would be impossible for him to enjoy life alone. Still, the 1910 census shows his wife Maude reporting they have been married a year, and that she has had no children. Harry is not shown in the household (headed by her father, Jasper), and was probably on the road. After Harry's death, Maude would marry widower Max Faetkenheuer, a musician, theatre manager and conductor of a theatre company from Cleveland, born in Berlin. The planner of the Metropolitan Theater at Euclid and E. 49th, this musical director and entrepreneur was sometimes called "the Oscar Hammerstein of Cleveland."

Harry may have been married another time as well; by association, he ended up embroiled in one of the most sensational papal cases of the time, a rare ecclesiatical divorce granted by Pope Pius X. The case centered around Miss Marion Loomis who sang for Castle Square under the names of Agnes Reed or Reid and Alarlon Loomis. Just after the turn of the century, Miss Loomis left a short unhappy marriage with lawyer and life insurance agent Arthur H. Gaukler (whom she married February 11, 1901 in Cook County, Illinois) to return to her old sweetheart Mr. William McLain, a jeweler. Whatever the issues between Miss Loomis and Mr. Gaukler, they probably had nothing to do with money (other than his contention she sought his) as he was extremely wealthy and is remembered for creating Detroit's Electric Park. While Miss Loomis and Mr. Gaukler had obtained a civil divorce, Gaukler wanted the freedom to remarry within the Catholic church and sought an ecclesiastical divorce which took several steps and a few years to obtain, igniting a lot of press coverage. He claimed that the marriage had been entered into from improper motives by Miss Loomis, that it had never been consummated, and that because of a prior union she was unable to contract matrimony with himself according to the laws of the church. Additionally he said that after the marriage, Miss Loomis had stated she would oversee his household affairs but would not be a wife to him. (There was also some testimony to suggest that Mr. Gaukler was in some way deformed. The May 15, 1902 New York Tribune says she found out on their wedding day that he was a hunchback.) Mr. Gaukler wanted to show that though Miss Loomis had received Catholic instruction and converted, she had never taken the marriage seriously. He brought papers (and two witnesses) to court in an attempt to show his wife had been married to Harry Davies of the Castle Square Opera Company and it had not been annulled through the church when he married her -thus she was not free to marry, nor practicing her Catholicism. The two witnesses claim Miss Loomis had claimed to have been married to Harry Davies, though she later denied it. In any case, newspaper accounts found so far do not say whether the Davies/Loomis marriage or divorce was proven to have ever happened, and I'm presently searching for evidence of it. In a non-Catholic service, Miss Loomis did marry her old flame McLain, however, in May of 1902 in a non-Catholic marriage, before the case was finally settled by Pope Pius X in February 1904. I have found her Michigan marriage license application to McLain, which interestingly states her parents as "unknown" and her place of birth as New York... which is where Harry definitely spent time in the late 1800's and early 1900's, so perhaps they met there, though I cannot yet find proof they married there. Checking proves a real challenge- what names do you look under? Agnes Reed or Reid? Marion Loomis? Harry Davies or William Harris? So far nothing, under any combination. In any event, Harry was associated with this then-famous case, apparently through no fault of his own. One article found about this case has him denying he ever was married to Miss Loomis, saying they were indeed longtime friends, but had never married.

By 1908, Harry was mentioned in the Washington Herald of May 24th as appearing with the Aborn Opera Company in an upcoming production of Flowtow's Martha in the role of Lionel, and is mentioned as having appeared earlier with "The Savage, the Castle Square, and other prominent operatic aggregations".

So, what did Harry sound like? The Philadelphia Operatic Society presented a week of grand opera sung in English, and Harry appeared in Charles Gounod's Faust (as Faust himself) and Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz (as Max). The May 8, 1913 Philadelphia Inquirer reviewed his performance as Faust:

"Mr. Harry Davies, who took the part of Faust, has a tenor voice of unusual excellence. It is not voluminous, but it is clear and sweet and true and it is employed with an exceptional measure of ability. Mr. Davies also possesses considerable dramatic talent and his impersonation of Gounod's meretricious hero was vital, ingratiating, spontaneous, and consistent."

The Royal Blue Book: Prize productions of the Pittsburgh International Eisteddfod, July 2, 3, 4, 5, 1913 by Robert Humphrey Davies (copyright 1916 by the American Gorsedd) examined the Welsh arts and artists in the United States, and had this to say of Harry's voice, after praising H. Evan Williams, considered the foremost Welsh singer of the day:

"Mr. Harry Davies, a native of Risca, South Wales has sung leading roles for the Boston Opera Company, the "Red Feather" Company, "The Yankee Cousin," "Chocolate Soldier" and the Savage Opera Company. During the last four years he has sung with the Aborn Grand Opera company. Professor D. Rhys Ford, writing for the Druid, says of Mr. Davies' work: "Harry Davies is a great tenor, and I am proud of it, as he, like the great Evan Williams, toiled for many years at manual labor until he reached the pinnacle of fame. In tone quality, Harry Davies' voice resembles Evan Williams' pure lyric, with dramatic fervor ringing throughout. In love it is persuasive, in anger it is vengeful, in adoration it is inspiring, in sorrow it is heartrending. No, it has not been hammered into him. It is an inborn power, and like the Italian skies, the sky of Wales has inspired one of her favorite sons to start your heart throbbing and your blood to rush in answer to his vocal appeals.""

Harry was interviewed extensively by the Lyceum Magazine in November of 1919 about his own opera company. In large part the interview dealt with with the need to sing opera in English so more people might appreciate it. Harry also discussed how he chose singers for his company. When confronted by a talented singer who proved unable to read music, Harry urged him to get a few months' formal training in rudiments, saying "God has been awfully kind to you, but you have been most unkind to yourself." The somewhat pedantic interview is reproduced below.

As will happen when one's life is spent on the road of the arts, in 1925, Harry passed away while on tour. One obituary from The Druid states his cause of death was pneumonia.

St. Louis Globe Democrat, October 29, 1925

Body of Opera Tenor will arrive today for burial.

Harry Davies, 58, for a great number of years leading tenor in the Savage, Hammersteins and Aborn Grand Opera companies of New York, died Tuesday night at Clintonville, Wis. For ten years Davies had been in charge of the Harry Davies Light Opera Company. He was born in Risca, Wales. When in St. Louis he resided with his wife, at 4407 North Nineteenth street. His body will arrive this morning. Funeral arrangements will be announced later. Davies was a life member of the Elks and was prominent in Masonic affairs.

From the Post Dispatch, page 27, October 30, 1925.

DAVIES - Entered into rest at Clintonville, Wis., on Tuesday, October 27, 1925, at 4 p.m., Harry Davies, dear husband of Maude Davies (nee Risinger), dear father of Charles H. DAVIES of Philadelphia, Pa., our dear son, brother-in-law and uncle, in his 59th year. Funeral Sunday, November 1, at 2 p.m., from Kron chapel, 2707 North Grand Boulevard, to Friedens Cemetry.

Deceased was a member of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 40. A. F. and A. M.: Bellefontaine Chapter No. 25. R. A. M.; York Council No. 40. R. and S. M.; Ivanhoe Commandery No. 8, K. T.; Scottish Rite Shrine, Mount Moriah Temple Chapter No. 6. E. S., and St. Louis Lodge No. 9, B. P. O. E.


From The Lyceum Magazine, November, 1919, page 31


Harry Davies Tells of His Strenuous Career. —His English Opera Companies Show Musical Possibilities of Platform

Today two names, Gilbert and Sullivan, stand out distinctive as the greatest writers of light opera the world has ever known. Altho this author and composer wrote for their own day, their work was of the quality that endures. Sir Arthur Sullivan's success came largely thru his thoro musical education, which enabled him to adapt old musical forms to modern popular understanding and liking.

For a large number of people there seems to be only two kinds of music— the music they enjoy, and the classical music. It is impossible to say definitely what is or is not "classical," for while anyone can recognize that there is a great deal of difference between the musical conception of a Beethoven symphony, or a Wagner opera and a Gilbert and Sullivan production, still we have plenty of devotees of each.

One of the vaguest terms in music is this word "classical." According to the dictionaries, classical means, "What is chaste and pure in art—which conforms to the highest models," but Wagner's music is anything but "chaste" or "pure" in form at times. He follows every mood in human nature, and his form is as resilient as it can be. Thousands think they do not like classic music only because they have never learned to listen intelligently. They go to orchestral concerts and hear only a tintinnabulation of sound. Good music is popular music when it becomes familiar. The love of music is innate, but the taste for good music must be acquired. It comes from multiplied hearings of the best; and judging, contrasting, discriminating, between the shoddy and the all-wool fabric. So then in this era of up-side-down, topsy-turvy, cubist art in painting and sculpture and the crazy jazz vogue in music, it is like drinking from a sparkling spring on a hot summer's day to hear some of Gilbert and Sullivan's delightful light opera again.

Harry Davies is making this possible for the lyceum and Chautauqua folks, who live outside the larger musical centers, with his light opera companies. One is doing "Olivette," and the other "Pinafore."

Harry Davies is one of the well-known landmarks in light opera in America. Being a Welshman, it goes without saying he can sing. He has appeared with the leading operatic organizations of America including Hammerstein's Grand Opera Company of New York, Henry W. Savage's grand opera company and the Aborn Opera Company. It is doubtful if any tenor has so interesting and so lengthy a record of appearances before the public as has Mr. Davies. Mathematical and statistical reckoning do not ordinarily furnish the most interesting of reading, but in Mr. Davies' case there is both profit and pleasure to be derived from a glance at a list that he has prepared giving the name of each opera in which he has sung, and the number of times he has appeared in it.

In conversation the other day the writer asked him just how many roles he had appeared in, and he answered: "I can not only tell you exactly, but I can also tell you the exact number of performances I have given. I have sung in ninety-nine different roles, and my performances in them reach the number of 3,410. My highest record for one part is 'Pedro' in 'King Dodo,' which I have sung 263 times, and my lowest the duke in 'Rigoletto,' which I have done but twice. My repertoire includes both grand and comic opera; both musical comedy and the popular show pieces of the present day.

"My record as 'Thaddeus' in 'The Bohemian Girl,' is 198, while other operas in which I have passed 50 performances are: 'Il Trovatore,' 'Martha,' 'The Chimes of Normandy,' 'Fra Diavolo,' 'Girofle-Girofla,' 'The Mikado,' 'The Mascot,' 'Olivette,' 'Pinafore,' 'Red Feather,' 'Said Pasha,' 'The Yankee Consul' and 'Wang.' I might name dozens of other operas, but why pursue the subject further?" To anyone who stops to think what it means to learn and rehearse a part, this amount of work will seem astounding, especially does it furnish food for thought for our "First of June Boys."

The Davies Light Opera Companies use the complete production, and not a cutting. The only thing omitted is the chorus, which everyone knows has practically no connection with the story. Their program runs two hours, and they carry very elaborate costumes and stage setting. Harry says Caruso sings better than he, but he don't dress his part any better. He also employs only professionals, and his first requirement is that they read. Strange as this may seem, many very fine singers cannot read a simple song off at sight. Mr. Davies said last year a young man who had a beautiful baritone voice applied for a position. He heard him sing and thought he had a find, but when he handed him a strange part he found he couldn't start to read it. With much embarrassment the young gentleman said he would have to have some one teach him his parts. "Awfully sorry," remarked Mr. Davies, "but you'll have to go home and take a few months in rudiments and learn to read. God has been awfully kind to you, but you have been most unkind to yourself."

Mr. Davies is a staunch believer in having opera in English. I think all musical critics and observing people will be ready to admit that the presentation of opera in English has improved the musical taste and love of good music to a remarkable extent in this country. When the standard operas are presented in adequate style, there is always an enthusiastic response on the part of the public. To the credit of the people of this country, it must be said that they are discriminating in their taste. And they very rightly insist on singers with trained voices, a production which is attractively mounted with costumes to correspond. People who some years ago thought of opera as an exclusive form of enjoyment for the rich only, have by the production of opera in English learned to enjoy and appreciate the beauties of these masterpieces of the great composers. One man expressed it to me recently: "Since I have learned to know what music is, I don't care for the poor stuff; It is like adulterated milk, something to be avoided with pleasure." There is no doubt that the popular musical awakening, which one finds in America today, was stimulated and is being developed by the presentation of opera in English. "I think," added Mr. Davies, "that the popularization of opera in English is not only an assured but a welcome fact."

Mr. Davies is appearing with one of his companies over the Colt-Alber Independents while his other company is going over the White & Myers Circuit for the third season.

Before I bow off, let me impress upon you the fact that while the Davies Light Opera Company is famed chiefly for its stellar productions of the standard light operas, we wonder if the public ever stops to consider what really excellent prelude work this company has been and is still doing. To be successful in stage work is no criterion that one will be successful on the concert stage, and the same holds good for a company. Harry Davies and his excellent band of singers have, however, been remarkably successful in this kind of work. Their programs are always interesting and their work is above par.

Family Members


  • Created by: sr/ks
  • Added: 13 Jun 2010
  • Find a Grave Memorial 53627314
  • sr/ks
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Harry Davies (Oct 1865–27 Oct 1925), Find a Grave Memorial no. 53627314, citing Friedens Cemetery Mausoleum and Chapel, Bellefontaine Neighbors, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA ; Maintained by sr/ks (contributor 46847659) .