by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As the musical world of Los Angeles grew, along with the rest of the Angel City, by leaps and bounds in the late 19th and early 20th century, one of its notable representatives was Joseph Vincent Pierre Marie Dupuy (1865-1922), who was a leading voice, literally, for most of three decades.
The featured object from the Museum’s collection for this post is a ticket for the second and final concert of the “freak” fourteenth season of the Orpheus Club, a chorale established by Dupuy in 1905, and which performed on 16 June 1919 at Trinity Auditorium, which opened five years earlier with hotel and office space in it, as well. The use of the word “freak” is from that time, but, first, a little about the club’s director.
Dupuy was born in 1865 in Bordeaux, the city in southwestern France that is the capital of a famed wine-making region. When he was seven years old, perhaps because of repercussions of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War, he and his parents, Leon and Elise, migrated to the United States, sailing from Bordeaux to Liverpool and then to New York. The family, however, soon settled in Springfield, the capital of Illinois, and then Chicago, where Leon ran a saloon and his son, from a young age, sang in a church choir.
What brought the Dupuys to Los Angeles by 1890 is now known. Leon worked as a molder and an expressman, while his son was a music dealer, but also an excellent tenor who traveled extensively throughout the country for much of the 1890s singing in grand and light opera productions, as well as oratorios. While living and working in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he met the English-born Ruth Mary Jenks and the couple married and had their first child, Leon, there.
By 1898, the family was in Los Angeles (a second son, Reginald, was born there), where Dupuy was involved in musical circles again, including as first tenor for the Euterpean Quartet for 30 years, being the choirmaster and featured soloist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and running, for several years, the Apollo Club of choristers in the San Gabriel Valley town of Monrovia. He also sang in some unusual settings, including an open-air performance in 1901 of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta HMS Pinafore at Chutes Park.
A 30 June 1901 feature in the Los Angeles Times about “Song Birds from the Leading Choirs of Los Angeles” included, in a collage of prominent local singers, a photo of Dupuy in his St. Paul’s costume, while his spotlight noted:
Joseph P. Dupuy, tenor soloist at St. Paul’s, has been in Episcopal choirs ever since he began as a small choir boy. In fact, one might say he has lived his life in a surplice . . . Outside the church he is also well known as the conductor of several prominent clubs notably the Euterpean Quartette and the Apollo club.
The earliest located mention of Dupuy’s Orpheus Club (there were at least two others of that name in the Angel City, one in the early Nineties and the other at the turn of the 20th century—there were many Orpheus clubs around the country) was in early 1906, when the Long Beach Telegram of 29 January reported that the 35-member group, “under the leadership of Mr. Dupuy, the tenor, whose voice has been frequently heard in Long Beach,” was to give a benefit concert for the coastal city’s chamber of commerce.
For its first official season in Los Angeles, the Orpheus gave a concert in June at Dobinson Auditorium, also known as Gamut Hall, on Hope Street, south of Tenth Street. The Los Angeles Express of the 12th reported that the club “presented a light and pleasing program . . . before a large audience, and one that was liberal in its marks of appreciation.” It noted, aside from Dupuy and maybe another singer, the chorus was comprised of amateurs, but “the work of the organization last evening is deserving of praise.
The paper noted that “the attacks were commendably prompt, the phrasing good and the tone quality agreeable and ample in quantity for a male choir of less than thirty voices” and it added that improvement was bound to come quickly because it had been only six months since the club was formed. Featured soloist, soprano Mrs. Robert Smith, was described as nervous but possessed “pleasing qualities and sings in excellent taste” so that “she should become a valuable addition to the musical talent of Los Angeles.”
The Orpheus grew in reputation and appreciation over the next dozen or so years, but, with the entrance of the United States in the First World War, a remarkable circumstance occurred with the club. The Times of 23 February 1919 observed that, in June 1917 when the first draft registration took place, the organization had 78 members, almost all of whom were of draft age.
Nearly 70% wound up in the Army or Navy, while some worked with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), in war-related government work, and in shipyards building craft for the war effort. The other eleven members, along with a dozen who were under draft age, “organized themselves under the name of Dupuy’s Choristers and sang in the all the camps under the auspices of the Y.M.C.A. and Red Cross societies.”
Dupuy, who was 53 years old and, obviously, well north of draft age, offered his services and was hired by the YMCA’s National War Work Council to be a secretary “for service with the troops of the American Expeditionary Force in France.” His passport application from September and October 1918 included letters from the Council and the War Department (now the Department of Defense) attesting to Dupuy’s work in his home country, which he apparently had not been to since he left over thirty-five years prior.
Because the armistice ending the terrible conflict was signed not long afterward, it is not known if Dupuy wound up going overseas, but, by February 1919, he was at Camp Kearny, north of San Diego, where he taught vocalizing and French. When he was discharged from his service that month, he returned to Los Angeles and, on the 23rd, went to “conduct the demobilization of the service flag of the club at the First United Presbyterian Church. The Express reported that Orpheus Club members were coming home at a rate of four a week and Dupuy was making plans for a 25 April “first after-war concert” at Trinity for the latter part of April.
Prior to that, on the 10th, a ball and entertainment was given for the Discharged Soldiers’ Social Club at the Goldberg-Bosley Assembly Hall at Flower and 16th (now Venice Boulevard) streets, with the proceeds from the benefit to go towards improving permanent rooms for the club. Film comedian Hughie Mack, singers and dancers were part of the program, as were “four of J.P. Dupuy’s boys, selected from the Orpheus Club, rated high among musical organizations of Southern California.”
Known as the Dupuy Quartette, the singers offered a new song, “Pershing’s Crusaders,” written by locals Vern C. Haskins (music) and Charlotte Higgins (lyrics) about the American “doughboys” who fought under AEF commander General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing,” for whom Pershing Square, previously Central or Sixth Street Park, was recently renamed.
That first concert of the fourteenth season of the Orpheus Club, held on 25 April, featured violinist Rene Hemery, who served with the French Army during the war and who was accompanied on piano by his wife. Hemery, who came to America with the French Symphony Orchestra at the behest of French government, remained in Los Angeles as a professional musician and conductor.
When the concert was performed, about twenty of club’s members were back, but there were still 37 that had not yet been mustered out of service. Dupuy recruited young men with little experience in concert singing. Consequently, wrote the reviewer from the following day’s Express, “owing to conditions the last two years there were few new numbers on the program, and pos[s]ibly not the finish that marked the Orpheus of a few years ago.”
The organization, however, “proved its vitality” and the results were such that readers were advised, “look out, six months from now, ‘when the boys come home.'” The audience was appreciative of their efforts and presenting songs that reinforced the patriotism that ruled the day, while Hemery was lauded “for a large technical equipment” on his instrument, if he was “a little timid in style.” Also commended was the blind baritone singer Earl Houck, who “sees life more beautifully through his tones than do most singers.”
Another notable project that Dupuy got involved with during this period was the establishment of two community choral groups through the city playground commission. Distinguished from community singing, the program was declared to be “the same as any first-class [choral] organization receives,” with instruction in voice, music and interpretation of style. Dupuy worked with one group at the State Exhibition Building at the east end of Exposition Park across from the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), while the second met at a city library in Arroyo Seco (Hermon) Park in the northeast section of the city.
The Orpheus Four became a popular side project of sorts from the Club, having been on tour earlier in 1919 and then returning home for six weeks before another extended period on the road, with the Kinema Theatre on Grand Avenue between 6th and 7th streets hiring the group to kick off its live offerings in a program that included the latest Mary Pickford film, Daddy Long Legs. The singers were so well received that their engagement was extended. Barker Brothers, the popular downtown furniture store, also had the ensemble perform at free midday concerts on Wednesdays.
When the Gamut Club, the musical organization founded by the omnipresent arts impresario Lynden E. Behymer and whose auditorium was noted above, held a “smoker” on 19 June, those on the program included film actor Otto Lederer, who presented a dramatic monologue; pianist Sam Sendler; poetry and other readings; and the Orpheus Four, who offered “the songs . . . they sung to the service men” when the quartet were in wartime service. It was added that the four, Paul Adams, Verner Campbell, Houston Dudley and Samuel Glasse, this latter replaced for the evening by the Dupuy, were to embark on a lengthy tour around the country.
While there were some articles located that previewed the second and final concert for the season for which this ticket was issued, there were no post-concert reviews found. The Orpheus Four were giving their last local performance before hitting the road for ten months starting in early July and long-time accompanist Will Galloway was given the spotlight with three solo numbers.
An interesting essay in the Express of 7 June by critic W. Francis Gates was a “Resume Given of Musical Season Just Closed” and the writer began by stating:
If a history of Los Angeles music were to be written, the season of 1918-1919 might be listed therein as somewhat of a freak . . . War and influenza had their way, the latter malign influence postponing the bulk of the musical offerings six weeks.
It wasn’t just the world war that disrupted life, but the horrors of the flu pandemic that first broke out in spring 1918 and then returned with stronger surges late that year and into 1919 taking millions of lives globally and hundreds of thousands in the United States. As for the terrible conflict of four years, Gates added “the psychology of the matter is that the people desire relief from the strain of the calamities and deprivations of the war,” a sentiment we can easily relate to in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. He did note that “America had only begun to taste that when the season opened.”
While the general musical presentations were of mixed quality, the critic observed that “the male singing societies felt the stress of war the most,” because of the loss of so many performers to wartime service, whether in the military or for an adjunct purpose. Gates wrote that the Ellis Club, which was founded earlier than the Orpheus, “had not the musical virility of former years” but also recorded that “the Orpheus club simply was all ‘shot to pieces’ by the enlistments.” He went on that “even Leader Dupuy was enlisted in the service (Y.M.C.A.),” though “gradually securing new members” and welcoming back those returning from service meant “the club will have about 100 men with which to start the next season.”
The Orpheus Club did continue on, but Dupuy soon had his health break down and, in September 1922, after an illness of a year which saw him first curtail his duties and then to appoint a successor, while hoping to return, he died at just age 57. While Dupuy’s vocal studio continued on under the guidance of Maud Reeves Barnard, his associate in instruction for 16 years, his replacement as Club director was Hugo Kirchhofer, who, the prior year directed a chorus at an Easter Sunrise service at the Hollywood Bowl, an early event at that venue which is celebrating its centennial.
Kirchhofer guided the Orpheus Club for one year longer as Dupuy, 17 years, through the 1939 season, when it was decided that fall to merge with the Ellis Club, which just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary the prior year. The Ellis-Orpheus Club survived another six decades before giving farewell concert at a Torrance church in April 2000, as aging members and a lack of new recruits led to the shuttering of the organization, though 94-year old George Stevens, a 72-year member who often mouthed the words because of his age, was there for the final performance. Stevens began in 1928 with the Orpheus and this ticket is probably a rare surviving artifact of a musical organization that lasted almost all of the 20th century and played an important role in the musical life of the Angel City (which should, with that name, always have top-notch choral music!)