Lizzie Thomas Edward: From Wales to the White House

by Jill Morgan

Lizzie Thomas Edward
Lizzie Thomas Edward

The Tabernacle choir was first established in 1849, Welsh immigrants forming its nucleus and John Parry, from North Wales, was its first conductor. 

Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Thomas was born in 1866, the youngest of four children born to stonemason Thomas and Sarah Thomas, who were both baptised in Wales. In the 1871 census the family were living in Swansea but only weeks later they left Liverpool on the Wyoming, bound for New York and then Salt Lake. By the 1870s Salt Lake City was a well-established and fast-growing town, with a population of about 13,000, served by the Transcontinental Railroad. The Thomas family crossed to the West relatively quickly by train.

Lizzie showed an early aptitude for music: by the time she was 15 she was a member of the Tabernacle Choir and singing soprano with them. Lizzie was also participated in historical events. 

The Columbia recording company was the first to record a large group of performers. Tabernacle Choir choristers had to stand in front of large flared horns that focused their sound into a recording device. It was a major challenge to place horns to pick up the sound of three hundred voices. Soloists Lizzie Thomas Edward and Horace Ensign each stood with their faces literally in one of the horns. Six of twelve recordings made were discarded due to poor quality, but the experiment was considered a great success.

Lizzie Thomas Edward
Lizzie Thomas Edward

In 1892 Lizzie sang solo at the capstone ceremony for the Salt Lake temple and then a year later at the temple’s dedication.

Another historical event involved the President of the United States. Two hundred members of the Tabernacle Choir took a trip from Utah to the east coast in October 1911 to sing at the American Land and Irrigation Exposition in Madison Square Gardens. They gave four concerts a day for 10 days. But along the route they stopped in twenty-five other cities to give performances, including Washington DC. United States President William H. Taft was scheduled to be away on the day the Choir were in Washington DC, but at the last minute it turned out that President Taft was ‘at home’. He, his wife and 50 guests requested the Choir to perform in the East Room of the White House. A programme was quickly put together. Soprano soloist Mrs Lizzie Thomas Edward sang ‘The Kiss’ by Luigi Arditti.

Lizzie died 23 July 1936 in Salt Lake City, Utah, aged 70. She was survived by her husband of 45 years, John Taylor Edward, her foster daughter Margie, and several grandchildren. Her musical career had spanned 55 years, not only with the Tabernacle Choir but also as a chorister, music teacher, and conductor of a women’s choir. She was a soloist at more than 3,000 funerals as well as hundreds of musical performances.

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