Clara Louise Kellogg
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 on July 12, 1842, she and her parents moved to Derby when she was about a year old. Her father George was principal of Sumter Academy but was also and inventor and eventually was also involved in the manufacture of pins in Derby in 1842 and from 1846 - 1855 produced surgical instruments in Derby.
Clara's musical abilities were becoming obvious during her time in Derby, and the family moved to New York so that Clara could receive a higher quality of musical instruction. Her father played the flute and her mother was an organist in one of the Derby churches, so they had a background in music. However, in an interview with the Hartford Courant in 1908, she noted that she earned her first money for singing when the editor of a local paper in Derby paid her 50 cents as a reward for singing. "She said, "I was as proud as a peacock" and her career was launched!
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 (Clara Louise Kellogg Opera & Concert Co.) which presented operatic performances in English all across the country.
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 Carl Strakosch in 1887. A story in the Manitoba Free Press said that Strakosch had saved Ms. Kellogg from drowning years before. She died at her home, Elpstone, in New Hartford on May 13, 1916. He husband died less than six months later. 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.