Clara Louise Kellogg


Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; neg. no. LC BH82 4694

Listen to the 1937 Dupont Cavlacade of America history of the life of Clara Louise Kellogg (Episode 106 from 1937-10-27)

"My music was honestly come by, from both sides of the house. When the family moved north to New England and settled in Birmingham, Connecticut, - it is called Derby now - my father and mother played in the little town choir, he a flute and she the organ."

Clara Louise Kellogg
Memoirs of an American Prima Donna

The Encyclopedia Brittannica said that Clara Louise Kellogg was, "the first native American prima donna and the first to achieve success in Europe." However, few people know that she spent her formative years in Derby. Though she was born in Sumterville South Carolina in 1842,  she and her parents moved to Derby around 1842. Her father George was involved in the manufacture of pins in Derby in 1842 and from 1846 - 1855 produced surgical instruments in Derby. By then Clara's musical abilities were becoming obvious, and the family moved to New York so that Clara could receive a higher quality of musical instruction.

She studied under the French and Italian masters at Ashland Seminary in the city and made her Italian opera debut in Boston before making her New York debut in 1861 with the New York Academy of Music's production of Rigoletto. She was a soprano. There was a genuine prejudice against Americans and their ability to sing Italian opera, but Clara overcame them all.

After building an American operatic career, she moved on to Europe and opened in London in 1867. She sang at Buckingham Palace and the Crystal Palace. Her career reached its zenith with a triumphal tour of Russia in 1880 and 1881. She was also noted in the United States for her work in organizing her own company which presented operatic performances in English.

She returned to Derby in 1885 for a short visit staying at the Bassett House in Derby. Newspaper reports at the time spoke of a concert that she was to give in appreciation for her time in Derby. Ironically, the site was listed as the Ansonia Opera House! The Sterling Opera House did not yet exist. Though we could not find the record of that concert actually taking place, we do know that she played for a smaller group of people at a reception held at the Bassett House.

She married her manager and retired from performing in 1887, and she died at her home, Elpstone, in New Hartford in 1916. Before her death, she published Memoirs of an American Prima Donna. (Click here to read some of it! You can also still buy it from Amazon and other on-line booksellers. )

At one point in her career, she returned to Derby and played a benefit concert in Gould's Armory.

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