Eva Gauthier

1885 – 1958

Gauthier was a rare classically-trained Canadian singer to achieve international fame in the early 20th C. She adapted her wide vocal range to sing opera, folk songs and jazz.

Eva Gauthier was the daughter of Louis Gauthier, a civil engineer who worked at the Department of the Interior. Gauthier lived at various addresses in Sandy Hill, including 232 Stewart St. 19 Sweetland Ave. and, starting in 1901, 50 Sweetland Ave.

The Gauthier family were friends of the Lauriers: Louis’s father had taken care of Laurier’s mother and his sister Emma married her husband in the same ceremony as the Lauriers. Not surprisingly, Lady Laurier was one of Eva’s early supporters, inviting her to sing at Laurier House and then helping her move to Paris in 1902 at the age of 17 to pursue her musical training. While in Europe, she also received financial support from Lord Strathcona.

Her budding operatic career took an unexpected downturn in 1910 when the Covent Garden Opera Company dismissed her on opening night, apparently because its star soprano feared being upstaged. Changing direction, Gauthier uprooted herself to Java where she married a Dutch tea planter whom she had met in Milan, Frans Knoote. There, she developed an interest in Javanese music, a genre that must have seemed wildly exotic to her Western audiences as the March 6, 1915 headline in the Ottawa Journal suggests: “Four Hundred Wives of Java’s Sultan Helped Ottawa Lady to learn Native Songs”.

Being unable to tour Europe because of the war, she chose to settle in New York in late 1914 and would eventually divorce in order to focus on her career. It is there in the 1920s that Gauthier earned her greatest renown, for popularizing modernist western music. She introduced audiences to songs by Ravel, Stravinsky and modern American composers. In 1923, she was the first classically-trained performer to present songs by George Gershwin in concert.

Although she also performed in Canada during that period, including the July 1, 1927 concert for the 60th anniversary of Confederation that was the CBC’s first national broadcast, she rightly felt that she had more opportunities in New York than Canada. She retired from the stage in 1937 and turned to teaching. She was ill in later life and suffered financial hardship before dying in 1958.

Eva Gauthier was a musical trail blazer whose determination, talent and willingness to explore new musical genres made her an international celebrity in her day. Unfortunately, she made few recordings although a few can be heard on You Tube.