Alma Gluck: Early Pop Star

Operatic soprano Alma Gluck (Reba Feinsohn, 1884-1938) was born on this day. Originally from Romania, she moved to the U.S. with her family when she was six years old, growing up in New York’s Lower East Side. In 1902, she married Bernard Gluck (sometimes rendered as “Glick”). Their daughter Marcia, born in 1903, grew up to be the author Marcia Davenport. 

While married to Gluck, she undertook serious vocal training in the U.S. and in Europe. She debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in 1909. Audiences adored the beautiful and gifted singer. Her rise to popular stardom was rapid. By 1911 she was giving solo concerts and cutting records. In 1912 she divorced Gluck. The following year she left the Metropolitan, focusing entirely on her solo career. In 1914, she married violinist Efrem Zimbalist, whom she often performed with; their son, born 1918, was the famous actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. 

Gluck’s repertoire was definitely one of “pops”. In addition to selections from opera, she also sang folk, minstrel and other tunes of a popular nature, including such well known songs as Stephen Foster’s “Home, Sweet, Home”, and “Old Black Joe”, and James A. Bland’s “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”, the latter of which became the first pop record by a classical artist to sell over a million copies (It nearly sold two million). She often sang in duets with Louise Homer. Most of the songs with Homer were of a Christian nature. While culturally Jewish, Gluck and Zimbalist eventually converted to Episcopalianism, and gave to many Episcopal causes.

Gluck retired from performing in 1925. She died of liver disease in 1938.