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Our Rich History: Julia F. Gould of Newport, a well-known prima donna, is now largely forgotten

By Paul A. Tenkotte
Special to NKyTribune

Part 70 of our series, “Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020.”

Possessing a beautiful mezzo soprano voice, classically trained Julia F. Gould of Newport, Kentucky, was a consummate musician. She could play the piano, sing, and act. Hers was a promising career, featuring musical studies in Europe, and national tours with two important American opera companies of the nineteenth century. She also performed for one of America’s first orchestral conductors, Theodore Thomas. Yet few know her name today.

Born on January 28, 1853 in Pennsylvania, Julia F. Gould was the daughter of James Nathan and Lydia E. Marriner Gould. Her family moved to Newport, Kentucky, sometime before the Civil War. There, Julia attended the city’s schools.

Clara Louise Kellogg. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, available here.

According to newspaper accounts, Julia Gould began singing in the Newport area in about 1871. One of her first appearances was a concert to benefit the Taylor Street M. E. Church’s Sunday School, given in March 1871 (“Newport,” Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, March 3, 1871, p. 7). Sometime in the early 1870s, Julia went to Europe, where she studied music in Milan, Italy, “in one of the famous schools of that city” (“Local Matters,” Cincinnati Daily Times, November 15, 1875, p. 1). By 1875, she returned to Newport.

Gould’s first major operatic performance in the United States was in December 1875 at Pike’s Opera House in Cincinnati. A reporter for the Cincinnati Daily Times was captivated by her voice and predicted that she would become “one of the first mezzo soprano singers of the age” (“Newport,” Cincinnati Daily Times, December 17, 1875, p. 3).

In early 1876, Gould joined the Kellogg Opera Troupe. Founded by a woman, Clara Louise Kellogg (1842-1916) in 1874, it played throughout the United States. Gould spent one season with the troupe, traveling to Norfolk (VA), Boston, and Philadelphia. The Boston newspapers praised Gould’s singing. For instance, the Boston Evening Transcript (as reprinted in the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer) described her as having a “remarkably pure, resonant and agreeable voice, honestly, fearlessly and skillfully handled and vibrating strongly on the most trying notes” (“A Newport Songster,” Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, April 3, 1876, p. 8).

Max Strokosch. Source: Music Division, The New York Public Library. “Max Strakosch” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed April 25, 2021.

Returning home to spend the 1876 summer off-season in Newport, Gould surprisingly did not rejoin the Kellogg opera company for its next season. Instead, she concentrated on giving concerts in the metropolitan Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area.

In early 1879, Julia Gould joined the Max Strakosch Opera Troupe, otherwise known as the Max Strakosch English Opera Company. Strakosch (1835-1892) was a noted American concert organizer and agent. The 1879 opera company’s tour took them nationwide, from Philadelphia to San Francisco. She returned home to spend the summer in Newport.

In 1880, Julia Gould moved with her parents and siblings to Mound Street in the West End of Cincinnati, where she was listed in the US Census as working as a musician. In that same year, she sang in Cincinnati for the famous Theodore Thomas Orchestra, as well as for the Cincinnati May Festival, which was also directed by Thomas (“Music and the Drama, Cincinnati Daily Gazette, February 2, 1880, p. 4; “May Music Festival,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, January 14, 1880, p. 6). Cincinnati was quickly rising in national musical circles in the 1880s, so there was plenty of work for the talented Gould.

Julia Gould sang for the famous Theodore Thomas Orchestra. Source: Cincinnati Daily Gazette, February 2, 1880, p. 8.

In June 1888, she married William S. V. Siebert in Cincinnati (Katrina Ostler Family Tree, Ancestry.com). By the early 1900s, Julia and William had settled in St. Louis, Missouri, across the Mississippi River from Belleville, Illinois, birthplace of her husband. There, Julia operated a music school, presumably from her home. She died in St. Louis on January 13, 1927, and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio (FindaGrave.com).

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

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