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Winifred Byrd
 
A reviewer from the New York Times said, "She is the Little Devil of the keyboard. She possesses a polished technique." Winifred Byrd also received high praise as a concert pianist from Walter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Symphony, who called her "the feature of the concert and one that will not easily be forgotten She seemed a fairy figure, clothed in a unique shade of blue, with an air and profile delightfully childlike, but an intensity and remarkable fire and passion in her playing."

This Salem-born musician was a small young lady but when her fingers flew over the 88 keys to energize the music of Chopin, Beethoven, Schumann or Liszt, it seemed as though sparks came from them. After her 1918 debut in New York, she traveled to other cities earning praise wherever she played. A reporter from Chicago wrote that her "fleet and accurate fingers [showed a] mixture of fire, delicacy, impetuosity of youth, excellent left hand, and singing tone."

In San Francisco she was named "one of the most brilliant to come out to the coast, displaying a piano technique that fairly carried her audience to their feet." In Boston, she was said to have displayed "a high order of musicianship, excellent tone, nice phrasing and nuancing."

Salem was a small town of 17,000 when Winifred was growing up, not a city where young musicians might expect to find superior training but this talented musician had her mother's memory to inspire her. Teresa Holderness Byrd received a music degree from Willamette University and taught piano until her death in 1886 when her daughter was two years old.

Winifred Byrd attended Salem schools and Willamette University for a year. She left Salem to study at the New England Conservatory of Music and then traveled in Europe for graduate study.

Winifred returned to Salem to perform in her hometown. On December 19, 1933 she performed at Salem's Capitol Theatre as a soloist with the Portland Symphony, conducted by William van Hoogstrattan. According to records of the day, tickets to the show cost fifty cents, $1.00, and $1.50. It was noted that a Steinway piano was used for the concert.

She also performed for Salem residents Elizabeth Lord, Alice Crary Brown, and Dorothy Pearce, a pianist in her own right. Alice Crary Brown lived at Bush House, taught music at Bush House. Boxes of her music are in the archives at Bush House Museum.

In the 1930s, Winifred moved to Los Angeles where she died in 1970 at age 86. Her niece, Martha Byrd Blau of Salem, recalled that her gifted aunt would play for her and her husband, Sandy Blau, when they visited in California.

The Oregon Journal newspaper of Portland summed up Winifred Byrd's Oregon appearances in the following review. (Her audience was) "composed of many of the music lovers and leading families of the metropolis. By her own genius and power she is entitled to approval in her own home state among her home people."

Compiled by Virginia Green.

Bibliography:
Al Jones. "Winifred Byrd: America's Wonder Pianist." Historic Marion, Volume XV

"Your Salem Family Album", Statesman Journal, Salem, OR October 26, 1990

Patricia Narcum Perez, Bush House Coordinator, source for Alice Crary Brown information concerning her stay at Bush House, March, 2003

 

 
Winifred Byrd
Winifred Byrd
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