The soprano Amy Sherwin was ‘discovered’ as a young woman when members of an Italian Opera company heard her singing in rural Tasmania. Many years later something similar happened in England, but this time it was Amy who was the discoverer.
As Amy’s own singing career began to decline she turned to teaching others. One young girl who became a special pupil had appeared rather magically on Christmas Eve 1910.
From Sydney’s Sunday Times, June 18 1911.
A STREET CAROL SINGER’S GOOD FORTUNE
A little girl, aged 13, known as Stella Carol, was discovered by Mme. Amy Sherwin (the ‘Tasmanian Nightingale’, the singer and teacher)’, last Christmas Eve, singing ‘While shepherds’ watched their flocks by night’ in a Hampstead street for the purpose of earning a few coppers to buy her mother a Christmas present.
It was like something from a Charles Dickens’ novel.
Here is what happened in Amy’s own words, as reported in the Brisbane Telegraph, March 30 1911;
‘It was really a romantic meeting’, says Mme. Sherwin, ‘quite in the approved fairy-book style. I had just returned from my salon to my home in Hampstead – very weary after a hard day with my pupils. Suddenly, outside my window, the voices of two little girls rose in a Christmas carol. I was annoyed at the disturbance, but gradually my annoyance gave way to surprise and wonder. Both the little girls had very sweet voices, and when one of them sang top A and produced a note of perfect purity I went to the door to find out what manner of children they might be. I brought them into my drawing room and learnt their story. They were two little girls from Holloway – two of a family of 12 – trying to get some money to buy their mother a surprise present for Christmas.
They sang again – one of them holding a half-eaten apple- and I was so impressed by the natural beauty of the voices that I determined to take the older one and train her for the singing profession. I sent them home at once with instructions not to sing in the open air anymore, and next day saw their mother. Now Miss Stella Carol is living with me. I have practically adopted her and have taken complete charge of her education. She has her own room and a maid to look after her. She will also have a governess to teach her languages, and to take charge of her on her afternoon walks.’
Stella’s real name was Lily May Fernee. The change to Carol was due to the carol singing which led the sisters to Amy’s door in Hampstead.
The Italian opera star Enrico Caruso was in the audience when Stella made her debut in Bristol. He was so impressed with the young singer that he arranged to have his photo taken with her. A similar photo was produced as a promotional postcard, printed with the title ‘A New Fairy Tale‘.
Amy’s protegee married fellow aspiring singer Albert Leblond at a very young age. Unfortunately, her new found independence created some friction. Stella began to break the agreement she had originally entered into by accepting outside engagements. With great reluctance Amy took the matter to court. It was settled amicably, with a revised contract.
Mr Wallington for Miss Carol, said that the young lady being an infant, her father and husband had approved the terms of the settlement. The old agreement had been cancelled and a new one drawn up, which was very favourable to the young lady.
The judge made some sage remarks at the end of proceedings;
His Lordship said that he thought the young lady was wise to agree, for she was now able to complete her musical education and start what she could have commenced three months ago, but for her independent feeling, Mr Wallington had mentioned that both Miss Carol and her husband were infants-at-law, and perhaps his lordship would say that the agreement was for the benefit of the husband’s musical education as well. ‘If he has any music in his soul.’ remarked the judge, ‘You might try to teach some people music for years and not succeed!’ (The Brisbane Telegraph, February 9 1915)
The newlyweds immediately made arrangement for a debut tour of America arranged by Amy’s husband, the musical agent Mr Hugo Gorlitz. However, they did not arrive.
Just six weeks after the traumatic events on the Arabic, Stella was back in London and busy recording. The song written by Harry Bishop, Lo, here the gentle lark, was one of several made on the same day.
Not unreasonably, Stella refused to travel to the United States until passenger ships were safe from torpedoes. Mr Gorlitz was devastated, as he had heavy bookings for her. He hoped she might arrive by Christmas 1915, but it not eventuate.
I have been unable to find any further mention of Stella Carol. Did the Christmas fairy story end so soon? Let’s hope not.
UPDATE – Recently Alan Perkins (a relative of Lily, aka Stella) contacted me. It was Alan who provided me with Stella’s real name. He told me that Stella and her husband Albert Leblond divorced and that in 1921 Stella married businessman Harry Kaufman. She continued with her career, which is no doubt why Harry became a theatre agent. The couple prospered and in 1953 they were living in a flat at Grosvenor House on London’s exclusive Park Lane, Mayfair. There were no children of the union.
When Harry died in 1961 he left an estate valued at over twenty two thousand pounds. Stella survived him by thirty years She died in 1990. aged 94. Thanks so much Alan.
TO HEAR THE ABOVE RECORDING OF STELLA , CLICK HERE FOR THE LINK