Minnie Emmett

By Quentin Riggs

Minnie Emmett was one of the first women (if not the first woman) who made commercial recordings. While still a teenager, she married Frank J. McCabe, a native of Ireland 18 years her senior. Their marital partnership eventually turned professional when they went on the vaudeville stage. An appearance at the Harlem Museum by McCabe & Emmett during the week of February 5- 10, 1894, was noted by George C.D. Odell in his Annals of the New York Stage.

By 1894 the New York native was already an established recording artist. The United States Phonograph Company supplementary catalog of that year listed eight titles by her, each cylinder selling for $2.00. The catalog editor wrote: "Miss Emmett's records remain the only successful ones ever taken of the female voice. They are in pure soprano, without squeak or blast--natural, clear, and human."

The 1898 Columbia catalog contained these comments: "The records made of Miss Minnie S. Emmett's songs are the most successful and popular ever made of the female voice. Miss Emmett has a clear and strong soprano voice of great range and sweetness."

That catalog listed 19 of her solos, ten of which were standard songs. Nine were from musical shows and operettas: Erminie, The Bride Elect, The Bohemian Girl, The Mikado, The Lady Slavey, Olivette, and Boccacio.

Cylinder Record

One of her cylinders attracted the attention of the editor of The Phonoscope, who wrote in a column headed "Editorial Comments on Records" in the October 1898 issue of the trade journal, "'The Snow Baby,' as sung by Miss Minnie Emmett, is worthy of special notice. The record is loud and clear, free from blasts, and withal beautifully rendered." "The Snow Baby" was from the 1897 operetta The Bride Elect, for which John Philip Sousa wrote both words and music.

The next Columbia catalog offered six duets by Miss Emmett and tenor Roger Harding: "She Was Happy Till She Met You," "Thou Art My Own, Love," the Gobble Duet (from La Mascotte), "Were You Not to Ko-Ko Plighted" (from The Mikado), "At Last We Are Alone" (from Said Pasha), and "Home to Our Mountains" (from Il Trovatore). Her short-lived partnership with Harding was ended by his untimely death on August 29, 1901 at age 43.

During the early years of the century she made Columbia discs and cylinders of songs from shows, popular songs of the day, and an occasional comic song, such as "If Money Talks, It Ain't On Speaking Terms With Me." In 1905 she recorded two George M. Cohan hits, "Mary's a Grand Old Name" and "So Long, Mary."

March 17, 1903 was a busy day for Miss Emmett. She spent that St. Patrick's Day in the Victor Talking Machine Company studios recording seven titles twice--once on seven-inch discs and again on ten-inch discs. These were her only Victor records; none was issued.

Her last records were two U-S Everlasting cylinders. They featured S.R. Henry's 1910 song "I'm Looking for a Nice Young Fellow who is Looking for a Nice Young Girl" and Harry Von Tilzer's 1911 hit "All Alone."

When the 1900 census was taken, Mr. and Mrs. McCabe had four children: Marcus J. McCabe (b. Nov. 1882), Emmett F. McCabe (b. Oct. 1891), Raymond E. McCabe (b. Sep. 1893), and Charles P. McCabe (b. Sep. 1899). They may have had more children after 1900, but that has not been verified.

In the April 1952 issue of Hobbies, Jim Walsh related a touching story that Albert Campbell told him in 1940: "Al said he had gone to see an old friend in a home for retired actors. In the lobby he glanced at an elderly woman wearing dark glasses. Not recognizing her, and assuming she was blind, Campbell didn't mean to stop. But the old lady wasn't blind. She imperiously exclaimed: 'Albert Campbell, how dare you come in here without speaking to me!' It was Minnie Emmett, whom he had imagined dead long ago. Her sight was bad, but not so bad that she couldn't recognize black-haired, twinkly- eyed Al Campbell. I have never heard of the soprano's death, so it may be that she yet lives in the actors' home, peering wistfully or commandingly at casual visitors through those dark glasses."