MYRTLE R. LEE
A WORLD-FAMED SINGER
Freckled faced twin girls, bare-footed and bare-headed, chasing butterflies and winged grasshoppers
over Dakota prairies, is a vision that brings back to many of us Monnie and Mrytle Lee, of Spink county. How kind
was Providence when He decreed that most girls should shed their freckles as they merge into womanhood.
Here was a pair of ideal twinsthe greatest earthly blessing that can come to any man's
home. Nature never produces any two things just alike, but she almost was caught napping in fashioning the Lee
twins. In fact we have always thought that one of them should have been named Kate and the other Dupli"Kate,"
and that their names should have been tattooed on their foreheads, for the sake of identification. They fooled
their teachers in school, surprised the right fellow by informing him at the gate that he had escorted the
wrong girl home, and cut up all sorts of pranks.
THE NAME OF LEE
The surname which they bear is familiar to all of us. One of the most conspicuous names in
American history is that of Lee. One of Washington's major-generals bore this name, while at the outbreak of
the Civil War there were in the American army thirty-two officers of various ranks, bearing this name.
The famous Lee twins were born at Cresco, Iowa. In 1880 their parents brought them to Dakota
and settled on a farm near Big Stone City. The next year they removed to a farm near Ashton, in Spink county.
Here the twin girls got their secondary education in the Ashton public schools. At the age of
sixteen their parents sent them to Dakota Wesleyan University, at Mitchell, where they graduated from the normal
course with the class of '94.
The girls were musicians by birth, instinct, training and choice. Their mother is a splendid
musician. She gave piano lessons to her promising twins at an early age.
When the girls entered the D. W. U. their natural and acquired musical ability was soon
detected. The old music teacher, Miss Curran, at once said, "They are unusually talented girls of great promise."
These twins not only played well but they sang with great charm and power. Dame Nature favored
them, in that she gave to Myrtle a sweet, strong full soprano voice; and to Monnie an alto voice of equal triumph.
At the D. W. U. two literary societies, the "Protonian" and the "Zeta Alpha," were struggling
for supremacy. Each was determined to capture for part of its membership the Lee twins. The "Zetas" won, but the
"Protonians," were always equally favored with their services. Whenever it was shown by the posted programs
that the Lees were to appear in either a vocal or an instrumental duet before either society, that night the
opposing society had a lot of delinquents.
After graduating from the normal department of the D. W. U. these twin sisters taught school and
saved their money with which to complete their musical educations. In 1898 they went to Chicago and entered
the " W. S. Mathews's School of Piano," specializing on piano work, but also taking voice culture under
Bicknell Young of Chicago, and John Dennis Mehan, of New York City.
Just why a pair of such promising twin sistersparts of each other's physical, mental
and moral beingsparts of each other's very soulsshould be separated by death just as the budding
hours of womanhood and the gilded sunrise of success were dawning upon them, is not within the finite powers
of man to conceive.
The young ladies had just gotten nicely started in on their work, and saw before them the
realization of their girl-hood hopes, when Monnie was taken very ill and was sent to Wesleyan hospital, in
Chicago. Only a few days had elapsed when Myrtle was summoned to hurry to the hospital. Imagine, if you can,
her feelings when she was led to her twin sister's death chamber and told that the unconscious form before
herthat intrinsic part of her very self, which she thought more of than life itselfwould soon be
stilled in death.
Is it any wonder that Myrtle turned away her face, felt a clammy coldness come over her, bit
her lips and then looking upward through tearless eyes, said to herself, "There's no such thing as God!"
Cringing under a sting of remorse such as Jesus suffered upon the cross when he cried out, "My God! My God!
Why hast thou forsaken me?" she presently heard a voice whisper plainly in her earas plainly as though
her own mother had spoken to her"You will both meet again."
Instantaneously hope returned, faith was resurrected, courage sprang up. Monnie died; Myrtle
went to the undertaker's, selected a casket for that half of herself which had just passed away, had her
sister's body placed in it, and at five o'clock of the same day she was accompanying the remains on a
Milwaukee train bound for Mitchell where Monnies's body was tearfully laid away in Graceland Cemetery. Why
this sacrifice? None ever will know. Perhaps sadness entering into Myrtle's life was the very thing that was
needed to mellow her soul and give to her the power that caused her to bring over a massive assemblage in the
Corn Palace at Mitchell one year ago a hush that melted an entire audience into tears, as accompanied by the
United States Marine band, she closed the week's engagement on the last night with an almost supernatural
interpretation of "Home, Sweet Home." Perhaps after all one of the twins was sacrificed for the development
of the other. Let us believe this to be the case.
INSTRUCTOR IN MUSIC
Returning to Dakota Wesleyan, Myrtle was elected instructor in music. Here for nine consecutive
years she served faithfully and well, doing the work that three people are doing today. In addition she handled
without pay the Methodist choir. Her work wore her out. On one occasion, during the last year of her D. W. U.
work, she gave completely out while walking up the long slope to the school and had to lie down on the side-walk
until she rest and accumulate sufficient energy to move on.
But always in her soul there was that burning desire to develop her talents, to mount to the
top of her chosen career. She longed to go to Berlin; the opportunity came; her niece, Miss Hazel
Lathrop, of Mitchell, agreed to go with her. They departed in 1907 and remained in Europe for two years.
MME. CORELLI WEEPS
Miss Lee intended, when she went abroad to continue her studies in both voice and on the piano.
In the try-out before that great artist, Mme. Corelli, of Berlin, one of the world's sweetest singers and
greatest musicians, she asked the young lady to sing for her.
It so happended that Mme. Corelli's mother, Mme. Rose Cillac, was, in her day, one of the
greatest singers and musical interpreters in all Europe. Mme. Corelli had inadvertently placed before Miss Lee,
on the pinao, one of Mme. Cillac's favorite songs. When the young singer had finished its beautiful strains,
and had breathed into its rendition the essence of her own soul, she was surprised as she turned around to
find Mme. Corelli in tears. Asked as to the cause, she said: ''Yours, my child, is the only voice I have ever
heard that sounds so like my mother's that it brings her dear, sweet face back to me."
At this, she clasped the young American in her arms, exclaiming: "You cannot afford to divide your
energies in the future, in attempting to master both piano and voice. A great career awaits you, as a concert
singer. You have a marvelous voice. There's a fortune in it. You will return to America a great concert
artist, that your country will be proud to claim." Momentarily a deep-seated friendliness was kindled between
teacher and pupil, which resulted in Miss Lee's being the recipient of much extra time and attention on the
part of her instructor, as well as numerous tokens of appreciation.
STERN CONSERVATORY, BERLIN
Whatever the future may bring forth in Miss Lee's life, she can never fully discharge her bond
of indebtedness to Mme. Corelli. For two years she specialized on tone production work under the supervision of
this great artist; sang at numerous state ceremonies abroad; was enthusiastically received and loudly applauded
wherever she appeared; returned to America and sang for a week at the Mitchell Corn Palace, being accompanied by
Santleman's famous United States Marine Band; and then removed with her aged mother to whom she has brought so
much delight, to the city of Chicago, where at present they live at 6106 Kimbark Avenue.
HER CHICAGO DEBUT
During her first eight months in Chicago, Miss Lee appeared in 189 solos in various parts of the
city, but it was not until the evening of November 4, that she made her regular debut at Music Hall and was
formally introduced to the city at large.
She was assisted by Theodora Sturkow-Ryder, pianist; Siegmond Cull, violinist; Julius Fuhrmann,
flutist, and Miss Bernice Lathrop, accompanist.
Her program was given in English, Italian, French and German; yet her articulation was equally
distinct in all four tongues, and she won unstinted praise from all her critics.
On this occasion she was terribly handicapped by a severe cold. Several times. between
numbers, she was compelled to go behind the curtains and gargle her throat with hot witchhazel. Despite the
capacity of Music Hall the room was filled. Some had come to be entertained but many who themselves were
artists that had been studying abroad came to criticise. Despite the handicaps, at the end of her first number
she had already broken down the barriers of prejudice and had sung herself so completely into the hearts of her
hearers, that she was obliged to respond to three successive encores.
Chicago music critics are severe. Any singer who makes his or her debut and escapes an adverse
criticism from at least one, or more of them, may well feel proud. Miss Lee did more than thisshe escaped
censure and won ringing praises from them all. At the conclusion of her program over thirty trained artists went
forward to congratulate her in person; and an eminent French critic, making a tour of this country to form an
estimate of the best living American singers, stepped up to her and said, "Miss Lee, you possess the greatest
concert voice I have ever heard. When I return to my native land and write up for publication the account of my
trip, I shall have nothing but words of commendation for you."
Miss Lee's voice is a rich coloratura mezzo-soprano of wide range and exceptional charm. She
colors her interpretations with a deep sympathy, weaves around them a charming personality, and she gives to them
a dramatic effect which shows she thoroughly appreciates the power of the platform.
Since her formal introduction to the musical world, her services have been everywhere sought for
with an earnest persistence. She has now signed up under New York management for two years to give Music Concert
Lecture Recitals in all of the large cities of the United States. Her initial appearance in this role will be in
San Francisco in February. Her stage title will hereafter be "Sofia Stephali." Although she has left our state,
we as South Dakotans will forever be proud of the little surviving twin girl who once roamed our prairies, who
earned every dollar she ever spent, who all these years since 1894, when her father died, has supported her
mother and sister; and who now has gone forward into the world, a finished product at her own expense, to sing
herself into fame and fortune. God bless her!