I literally stumbled upon this week’s subject while I was looking for something else. That’s not unusual for me. I do a lot of research in old newspapers, and I often find information completely unrelated to the subject I am looking for at the time.
In this instance I was looking for—well, I don’t actually remember what I was looking for—when I stumbled across an article about President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson hosting a dinner at the White House for the Supreme Court Justices on Feb. 3, 1914.
Now, as fascinating as that was, it had nothing to do with whatever I was researching at the time.
However, what caught my eye about the article was that one of the entertainers at the dinner was a young woman from London, Kentucky. Her name was Corinne Harmon, and she was described as “one of the leading young pianists” at the time.
Of course, I had to know more. Following is a short summary of what I found out about Corinne Harmon:
She was born on July 31, 1883 in Williamsburg, Kentucky, the daughter of Samuel L. Harmon, of Williamsburg, and Ida Bell Thompson Harmon, of London, daughter of the locally well-known William H. H. Thompson and Caroline Hackney Thompson.
Corinne’s mother, Ida, taught music classes at Williamsburg, and her father, known universally as S.L., owned a dry goods store there.
Corinne had an older brother, William H. (named, no doubt, for Ida’s father), born on April 1, 1881, but he is rarely mentioned in the newspaper articles. Corinne, it seems, received all the attention from both the press and their mother.
When Corinne’s father died on Jan. 26, 1884, after an illness which lasted several years, Ida and her children moved to London to live with Ida’s parents.
S.L. had two children from a previous marriage, but I was unable to discover if they moved to London with Ida, Corinne and William or if they stayed behind in Williamsburg with some of their father’s relatives.
I do know S.L.’s two children did not appear in Ida’s household in the 1900 Laurel County Census, but since they were older than Corinne and William, they could have been married and living on their own by then.
In any case, from the moment the Harmon family moved to London, it seems that Corinne was the focus of her mother’s interest.
Corinne apparently demonstrated her special ability on the piano at a young age. By the time she was eight years old, she was playing piano at parties, dances and “musicales” (small, informal musical concerts) in London.
Ida made sure her daughter received every opportunity to improve her skills. She sent Corinne to study at the Chicago Conservatory of Music (1898-1899), the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (1899-1902), and took her to Europe to study with some of the master musicians there, including Raoul Pugno, in Paris, France, and Leopold Godowsky and Ossip Gabrilowitsch in Berlin, Germany (1907). (Click on the names to find out more about these teachers.)
As early as 1903, Corinne was teaching music in Cincinnati at age 20. In 1907, before she left for Europe with her mother, Corinne was teaching music in Searcy, Arkansas, and in 1912, after her return from studying in Europe, she was teaching at several prestigious studios in Boston, Massachusetts.
She eventually set up her own studio in Boston, teaching music as well as performing concerts in a variety of venues, including the White House and one of the earliest licensed radio stations, KDKA in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
She visited her family in London frequently, and often performed in concert in the area when she came home to Kentucky.
In 1937 she appeared at the Laurel County Homecoming in a musical program specifically tailored to honor her and showcase her abilities at the piano.
Corinne Harmon never married. It’s probable that she was too occupied with her musical pursuits to worry about marriage and children. It’s also possible that she thought marriage would mean giving up her musical career, and that was simply too high a price for her to pay.
This is, of course, conjecture on my part, as I found nothing in my research to explain her unmarried lifestyle.
Corinne Harmon died in Boston on Sept. 4, 1953. She was cremated and her ashes were brought back to London and interred in the A. R. Dyche Memorial Park next to her mother, Ida (who died Feb. 9, 1936), her brother, William (who died July 31, 1918), and William’s wife, Bess Pitman Harmon (who died March 10, 1967).
Although I searched the Internet for an audio recording of Corrine Harmon playing the piano, I was unable to locate anything. If I happen across something in the future, I will post it here as an update.