Today is the birthday of Grace Moore, “The Tennessee Nightingale” (Mary Willie Grace Moore, 1898-1947).
Originally from Knoxville, Moore briefly attended Ward-Belmont College in Nashville before studying seriously to be an opera singer in Washington, D.C., New York and Paris. She debuted at a Greenwich Village cabaret called The Black Cat, and worked in vaudeville and in the choruses of Broadway shows like The Beggar Student (1913), The Mikado (1913), and The Magic Melody (1919). 1920 was the year she crossed over to stardom, with her own billing in the Raymond Hitchcock–Jerome Kern–Ned Wayburn revue Hitchy-Koo. Star turns in Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue (1922 and 1923 editions) and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931 followed. Along with that (as it almost always did) came big time vaudeville dates at venues like the Palace. In his classic book vaudeville Joe Laurie Jr mentioned her as someone (like Walter C. Kelly) who never appear on a bill with African American performers. “Tennessee Nightingale”, indeed,
In 1928, she began appearing with major opera companies and giving evening-length concerts at venues in New York and Paris. Next came Hollywood. She played Jenny Lind in two films, A Lady’s Morals (1930) and Jenny Lind (1931). She starred in seven more films through 1939, mostly musicals, operettas and operas.
By the 1940s, she was one of the most highly paid entertainers in the world, and she frequently consorted with Royalty. Her first Royal Command Performance was in 1935. She was widely criticized for curtsying to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor in 1938 (that does seem kind of weird). And when she died in a plane crash in 1947, among the other passengers was Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. Most of her final years were spent entertaining troops with the USO.
Her 1944 autobiography is called You’re Only Human Once. In bio-pic of her life starring Kathrine Grayson called So This is Love came out in 1953.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.