Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sentimental Sunday - The Talented Stewart Family of Utica, NY

Elliott Hamilton Stewart arrived in New York City December 21, 1888 at the age of 22.  Almost immediately he headed to Utica, NY.  He had studied law at Queens College in Ireland and quickly found employment as a clerk in the Assessors Office at Utica City Hall.

While competent at his job, his passion was music and singing.

Elliot H. Stewart was born in Belfast, Ireland on May 22, 1866 to James Stewart and Martha Elliott Stewart.  It appears that Elliott was the baby of the family.  His known brother's and sister were:  William C (who moved to Utica), Thomas (who lived and died in Belfast, but spent about 1 or 2 years living in Utica), James T (lived his entire life in Belfast), Bessie (who lived in Londonderry, Ireland).

At an early age he sang as a choir boy at St. Georges's Episcopal Church in Belfast and as a soloist at Dr. Gray's Church at College Square in East Belfast.  His love of music was one reason he decided to come to the US and continue his singing career.  It is likely he came to Utica, NY because his brother, William C. Stewart (1847-1929), already lived there, but probably wouldn't have been the first choice of a immigrant looking to become a professional performer.

In Utica, he was a founding member of the highly celebrated Hatton Quartette.  They toured throughout the Mohawk Valley.  I guess they would be what we would call a "Barbershop Quartet".  Which have become much more popular lately.  Funny how styles of music come back in vogue over time.  Elliott H. Stewart was first tenor, Edwin A Ballou was second tenor, Charles A Winslow was first bass, and Walter Malacrow was second bass.  The Hatton Quartette was formed in 1891 and continued until the late 1890s.  Part of the group, including Elliott H. Stewart then formed the "Oriental Quartettte", so named not because of the ethnic background of any of their members, but because of the fact that they were associated with the Oriental Masonic Lodge.   They continued together through at least the early 1900s.  They performed at many local events and won numerous competitions.

When the quartette eventually broke up, he continued as a celebrated singer.  He was a frequent soloist at wedding, funerals and other events.  Near the end of his life, he was musical director for the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.

On October 15, 1895, he married the love of his life, Caroline "Carrie" Reath.  My wife's great grand aunt.  They had two children together:  Elliott Andrew Stewart and Bessie M Stewart.

Music was a passion Elliott instilled in his two children.

Elliott Andrew Stewart was born June 25, 1898 in Utica, NY.  He pursued the profession as a professional singer.  He made performed on Broadway Operetta productions of "Desert Song", "New Moon", and "Student Prince".  He performed frequently on the radio in the 1920 and 1930 and must have been quite a celebrity.  You have to remember that this is before television and radio was a big deal.  He traveled widely with his musical career touring in Chicago and across Canada.
I don't have the story of how he met his wife Elizabeth Duffy, but they wed in Cleveland Heights, Ohio on August 26, 1939.  He was 41 and his wife 39 years old.  His family must have begun to believe that he was going to be married to his work and be a bachelor for life at the time he eventually married.

Later that year, he and his wife, returned to Utica, NY and he joined the AM Radio station WIBX.  By 1948, he was the station manager.  He and his wife were very active in the Utican community and participated in many charities and civic organizations.  But he never missed a chance to sing when the situations allowed it.

Elizabeth Duffy Stewart passed away on November 6, 1962.  According to her obituary, Elizabeth had worked as a fashion coordinator at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood and an advertising executive in Boston. At a time where most women didn't work outside the home, this was very impressive.

Elliott died on December 26, 1966 on a Christmas time trip to New York City.  He and his wife didn't have any children.
Elliot H. and Caroline Stewart's daughter, Bessie, was also a music lover and accomplished musician.  Bessie was born in Utica on July 31, 1896.  She married George Bannigan on June 21, 1922 at St. Francis de Sales Church in Utica.  Bessie studied music and the Utica Conservatory of Music.

She was an accomplished pianist and started giving lessons to the neighborhood kids when she was only 14.  Also, she furthered her piano studies in New York City with Pierre Luboschultz of the renowned piano team of Luboschultz and Nemenoff.  When she returned to Utica, she made three appearances with the Utica Civic Orchestra.

What she will be most widely remembered for is the impact she had on a wide number of her piano students over the years.  Upon her death on August 31, 1951 a scholarship was created in her honor by the Utica B Sharp Club.  She and her husband didn't have any children.

The Stewarts were an exceptionally talented family.  It is a shame that they don't have any family here to carry on their love of music.  While the Stewart family of Utica does not endure, they live on in the many lives they touched and the people they introduced to a love of music. 

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