Collection ID: C93
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Collection context


Davis, Agnes, 1905-1967
Agnes Davis was a soprano and professor of voice in the Indiana University School of Music. Her career highlights include winning the Atwater Kent singing competition in 1927 and touring with the USO from 1943-1945. Collection includes both business and personal correspondence, newspaper clippings documenting her career, and several programs from her performances.
1 cubic foot
Materials are in English .
Preferred citation:

[Item], Agnes Davis papers, Collection C93, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.


Biographical / Historical:

Agnes Davis, the daughter of Colonel W.A. Davis and Lulu Goodall Davis, was born on May 11, 1905 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through hard work and dedication Agnes Davis became a soprano singer, and her career took her in a variety of directions both professionally and geographically. Included among her notable accomplishments were her travels with Columbia Concerts, U.S.O. tours across several continents, and her teaching position in the Indiana University School of Music.

Davis studied music in depth and enjoyed a very full singing career prior to coming to I.U. She began the development of her voice at the Colorado State Teacher's College in Greeley, Colorado. Her study of music continued at the Lamont School of Music in Denver, Colorado. Later, Davis studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the institute she trained under the celebrated teacher and singer Emilio de Gogorza.

Davis performed in many operas, including Lakme, Gianni Schiechi, Strauss' Rosenkavalier, Verdi's Falstaff, Wagner's Parsifal, and Wagner's Lohengrin. In particular, Lohengrin is notable for two reasons. First, in 1937 Davis made her debut as Elsa in that opera. In addition, she was only the second American born singer to perform the role of Elsa at the Metropolitan Opera. In the course of her career she also sang in concerts, oratorios, and performances requiring an orchestra. The orchestras she sang with were the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic-Symphony. During Davis' career she sang under the direction of many conductors, such as Fritz Reiner, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy and Otto Klemperer.

Davis later toured with Columbia Concerts from 1934-1949 and taught at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music from 1949-1950. Two events stand out in Davis' singing career. Davis won first place in the 1927 Atwater Kent singing competition out of a field of 50,000 competitors. The other event was the three years she spent touring with the U.S.O. from 1943-1945.

Davis taught voice in the I.U. School of Music from 1950 until her death in 1967. During her tenure at I.U. Davis took two sabbaticals to research vocal teaching methods in Europe and Australia. In 1963 she was promoted to the rank of professor. She became a National Honorary Member of Sigma Alpha Iota and a member of Pi Kappa Lambda, both musical sororities. She was also elected to Gamma Phi Beta.

Even with all her responsibilities and memberships at I.U., she played important roles outside the university. She had memberships in the American Association of University Professors and St. Margaret's Guild of Trinity Episcopal Church, Bloomington, Indiana. The years 1962-1963 were especially eventful for Davis. During that period she became a Vice-President of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. When the National Federation of Music Clubs held a National Contest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Davis served as a judge. Finally, in 1963 she received the commission of "Kentucky Colonel" from Governor Bert Combs.

Davis endured both bad and good times in her private life. During her singing career, Davis married a fellow singer, the baritone Benjamin DeLoache. This marriage, which began in 1934, ended in divorce in 1946. However, in 1957 Davis married Herbert James Richardson, to whom she remained married until her death on October 10, 1967.

In the press release announcing her death, Wilfred C. Bain, Dean of the I.U. School of Music, stated: "Miss Davis was a stellar member of the voice faculty and made a major contribution to the reputation and success of vocalism at this institution. She will be remembered as a delightful, warm-hearted human being as well as a singing artist and superb teacher." In 1968, the Agnes Davis Richardson Memorial Scholarship was established in her honor, and is awarded annually to voice students in the School of Music.

Scope and Content:

The Agnes Davis papers comprise 1 cubic foot spanning 1927-1967, encompassing Davis' singing and teaching careers as well as her personal life. Some of the items are undated. There are six series in the collection, including Business records, Agendas and itineraries, Correspondence, Programs, Course material, and Clippings.

The Business records cover the years 1935-1958 and are arranged in chronological order. Included in the series are Davis' contracts, artist's notifications, and letters of agreement spanning 1935-1943. These indicate that during this time period, Davis traveled to every region of the United States and to Canada for her performances.

The agendas and itineraries are arranged in chronological order, although the majority are undated. Those that are dated span 1938-1959. Notable are the Speaker's Bureau agendas from September 1945 and October 1945, during which time she traveled to Michigan, Ohio, and Connecticut for speaking engagements. In her speeches, Davis encouraged her audiences to contribute to the National War Fund, which helped to finance the U.S.O. Camp Shows, a group of entertainers who offered shows for United States soldiers.

The next series, Correspondence, 1927-1965, is arranged alphabetically and consists of three sub-series. The sub-series for the correspondence are Business, Personal, and H.J. Richardson correspondence. Richardson was Davis' second husband. The correspondence in this sub-series is to or from Richardson, but deals with Davis' business affairs. An underscore (_____) means either the first or last name is unknown.

The Programs series, 1927-1957, consists of concert programs from Davis' performances. The folders are arranged in chronological order, with the undated programs filed at the end of the series. Included are programs from her performances with the choirs such as the Columbia (S.C.) Choral Society (1942) as well as programs from private concerts, such as the one held at the home of Mrs. E. Walter Clark in Chestnut Hill (Pennsylvania, 1935).

The next series is Course materials, and is undated. Included in this series is a composition book on which is written "Agnes Davis, Music School – I.U.," though the content within seems to be notes from Davis' own foreign language studies. The other file in the series holds a copy of Davis' syllabus for U361, English Diction for Singers.

The final series of the collection is Clippings, 1927-1967, arranged chronologically. Prominent are newspaper clippings about Davis' competition and ultimate win in the Atwater Kent foundation's radio singing contest in 1927. Competing against 50,000 singers across the country, her achievement earned the 24 year old the nickname "Nightingale of the Rockies."

Acquisition information:
Accession 0885
Appraisal information:

At the initial processing, newspaper clippings were photocopied and disposed of. Archives staff also weeded out sheet music, books, and blank post-cards.

Processing information:

Processed by Elinor Levy; revised by Katherine A. O'Bryan

Completed in 2005.


Collection is organized into six series: Business records; Agendas and itineraries; Correspondence; Programs; Course material; and Clippings.



This collection is open for research.

Advance notice is required.


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[Item], Agnes Davis papers, Collection C93, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Indiana University Bloomington
Herman B Wells Library E460
1320 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405-7000, United States
Indiana University Bloomington