We received these 33 photographs and some other material in our mailbox a few months back from a donor in connection with a famous Chattanoogan (transplant) I hadn’t heard of. Since then, I have only found limited mentions of the accomplished opera singer Doris Doe in public Chattanooga history collections. Luckily, this collection included her biographical information in a 1942-43 press kit.
Doris Doe, charming mezzo-soprano, lived and breathed music almost since the day she was born. Born in Bar Harbor, Maine, Doris comes from an extremely musical family. Her grandfather, Henry Rice, was a celebrated oratorio singer – her mother an organist and pianist of no small ability, while, her father played the flute, piccolo, banjo, and guitar. With her sister as an accompanist, her brother playing any one of innumerable instruments (he could play 11 wind instruments), and Doris singing – rare, indeed, was a non-musical evening among the Does – as far back as Doris can remember.
At an early age, therefore, it was but natural that young Doris decided to follow a musical career. Starting with piano lessons, her family soon discovered that singing was her forte, and they encouraged her to cultivate her voice. Her earliest endeavors were as soloist in a church choir in Palm Beach, whence the family had moved. Later she studied under Sybil Sammis McDermid and coached with Frank LaForge and Charles Baker.
Her first professional experience came from an engagement on the Chautauqua circuit, through the middle west, where she an invaluable knowledge of audiences and the understanding so indispensable to every successful concert artist. From that time on, Miss Doe’s rise was rapid. Engagements quickly followed and soon she had the distinction of singing with the New York Oratorio Society as well as with the Minneapolis Symphony and the New York Philharmonic.
After her successful debut in New York, she went to Germany for a season of coaching. While there, a friend persuaded her to audition at the Dresden Staatsoper for the role of Erda in “Das Rheingold’. Securing the part, her performance was greeted with such acclaim that Gatti-Casazza, hearing of her success, wired her to come to Italy for a Metropolitan audition. So successful was the audition, the impresario signed her with the Met for a five-year contract, and she made her Metropolitan debut singing Brangaene in “Tristan and Isolde”.
In addition to being a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company ever since her auspicious debut, Miss Doe has concertized throughout the United States. She has sung with the San Francisco and Chicago Opera Companies as well as toured the country with the Metropolitan Opera Quartet. She is a pioneer radio artiste, having sung over Radio Station WJ7 during its earliest days when radio was just “novelty”. Lately, she has been heard on several of the foremost major network programs, from coast-to-coast. During the past season, she has devoted a great deal of her time to singing at various Army camps – and she only hopes that her soldier audiences derive as much pleasure as she does from these performances.
Her liking for people shows itself in her leisure-time activities as well as her work. She likes sports of all kinds, particularly golf, in which she excels, having won several country club championships. She plays bridge and mahjong with enthusiasm and ability. When she can find the time, (her own schedule keeps her almost too busy), she enjoys attending concerts given by her colleagues.
She is very fond of domestic activity, with special emphasis on cooking, and rare is the dinner party that doesn’t find Doris preparing special delicacies for her guests. For relaxation, she enjoys attending the movies. But, to completely relax, she likes to listen to fine classical radio programs – and, at the same time, keep herself busy knitting sweaters for her friends. And, just for variety’s sake, she likes to hear a good swing band every so often.
Born the 22nd of March 1899 in Bar Harbor, Maine, it’s unclear when she made Chattanooga her home, but probably in the late 1950s. Ms. Doe was a Professor of Voice at the Cadek Conservatory of Music later in her career and is listed in UTC’s course catalogs as an Associate Professor from 1959 until the early 1980s. These images appear to be from the 1940s and were part of her belongings in her estate.
Doris Doe died in Chattanooga in December of 1985 and is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery. She lived at 410 S. Seminole Drive on Missionary Ridge, but the house in the photograph below are probably of her estate, Rythm Hill, in Bennington, NH. It’s unclear if any of these images are of Chattanooga.
If you know more about the life of Doris Doe and her Chattanooga connection or was a former student, please contact me.
It is an absolute privilege to have these one-of-a-kind images of a one-of-a-kind individual like Doris Doe in the Picnooga collection.