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John Charles Thomas papers

 Collection
Identifier: PIMS-0074

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The John Charles Thomas papers, 1903-1991, contain personal papers, scores, correspondence, ephemera, and recordings. Series 1 includes manuscript and published scores. Series 2 contains various concert programs featuring performances by Thomas. Series 3 contains publications and clippings including magazines, newspaper clippings, and magazine clippings.

Series 4 contains correspondence, personal papers, and business papers. A large portion of the series includes scripts from films and radio programs. Another large portion of the series includes manuscript copies of an unpublished biography of Thomas written by Merle Armitage, who was once Thomas's manager. Materials created by archives staff in the course of preparing for the Peabody exhibit on Thomas in 1991 have been retained in this series. Included is correspondence, photographs, and inventories of the sheet music collection. Series 5 contains personal realia and other ephemera that belonged to Thomas, including costumes, trophies, and framed artwork.

Series 6 contains photographs from Thomas's performances, appearances, and personal life. Also included are scrapbooks containing clippings and photographs from various performances. Series 7 contains recordings of live performances and radio programs. The recordings are on magnetic wire, reel-to-reel, audiocassette, and 45- or 78-rpm records. A few have been transferred to CD.

Content warning

This collection contains racist and culturally insensitive materials, including photographs of Thomas in blackface, photographs of a "Romany Chorus" whose white singers pose in stereotypical Romani costumes, and a number of musical scores and recordings that contain lyrics or images that are derogatory to African Americans and other racial or ethnic groups.

Dates

  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1903-1991

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for use at the Arthur Friedheim Library Archives. Contact peabodyarchives@lists.jh.edu for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.

Biographical / Historical

John Charles Thomas (1891-1960) was an operatic baritone. He studied with Adelin Fermin at the Peabody Conservatory from 1909 to 1912 and then became an established star of Broadway musicals and operettas. In 1924 Thomas made his operatic debut in Washington, D.C., performing the role of Amonasro in Aida. The following year he began performing for the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, where he would sing 15 roles over three seasons. He sang the world premiere performance of Milhaud's Les Malheurs d'Orphée and the Brussels premieres of Salome and Parsifal. In 1928, Thomas performed at Covent Garden as Valentin in Faust. He made his Metropolitan debut in 1934 as Germont in La Traviata alongside soprano Rosa Ponselle. He performed occasionally with the Metropolitan Opera Company until 1943.

In addition to his stage and concert appearances across the United States, Thomas performed frequently on national radio broadcasts beginning in 1927. In the 1930s and 1940s he performed with a host of well-known performers, including Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, and Al Jolson, and hosted his own popular Westinghouse Program. He also made numerous recordings, many of which were for the RCA Victor label. During World War II, Thomas performed at military bases, sang for Victory recordings for overseas distribution, and performed at Victory Bond rallies.

Thomas's repertoire in solo performance and recordings included a range of arias, art songs, and popular songs. He emphasized the importance of poetry as a source of musical inspiration, which resulted in music written especially for him with lyrics by major American poets of the first half of the 20th century. He worked with many women composers who wrote music especially for him. His music library includes works by Carrie Jacobs Bond, Margaret Carreau, Elizabeth Kent Charles, Mary Carr Moore, Clara Edwards, and Mabel Wood Hill.

After his concert career ended in 1955, Thomas remained active in light opera, continued to make radio and television appearances, and became director of the Music Academy of the West. Thomas was also a philanthropist, hosting annual concerts to raise money for local hospitals. He continued teaching and championing young artists until his death in 1960.

Further reading: Schaaf, Elizabeth. "John Charles Thomas: An American Classic." Johns Hopkins Peabody News, September/October 1991: 19, 25-26. Available at https://peabody.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16613coll5/id/3760/rec/3

Biographical note edited by Matt Testa in 2024.

Extent

42 Cubic Feet (94 containers)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

John Charles Thomas (1891-1960) was a baritone who had a lengthy career as an opera singer and recording artist. His papers include scores, personal and business papers, concert programs, clippings, correspondence, ephemera, photographs, and recordings.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Some recordings in series 7 are on obsolete or fragile formats. Access to these items may be limited depending on the physical condition of each item and the repository's ability to support the playback of recordings stored on outdated media.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed inventory of the scores in boxes 1-32 in series 1 exists offline in box 54 of the collection and in the archives' administrative files. Please contact the Peabody Archives for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Dorothy Thomas, widow of John Charles Thomas, in 1961. Additional materials donated by Ken Darby in 1990, Harriet Rebecca Holliday in 1992, Barbara Davisson in 1993, Michael Maher in 2000, and Shirley Taschenberg in 2001.

Related Materials

Several recordings of Thomas and books about him can be located through the library catalog. A 1990s compilation CD, An American Classic, contains biographical notes by archivist Elizabeth Schaaf.

Processing Information

This collection is mostly processed. The bulk of the processing was by Kerri Sheehan in 2017. Partial processing by archives staff before 2017 is not documented. Recordings in series 7 are partially processed.

The Peabody Archives mounted an exhibit about Thomas's career, "John Charles Thomas: An American Classic," in 1991. Some of the collection's arrangement and physical processing was likely carried out at that time by archivist Elizabeth Schaaf. Materials and research notes created by archives staff for that exhibit were commingled with the original source material and have not been separated.

Matt Testa revised several folder titles in this finding aid in May 2024 to bring them into compliance with Johns Hopkins guidelines for inclusive and conscientious description (2023). In particular, three folder titles with an offensive word were replaced with "[ethnic slur]" or merged with another record. For searchability, the original title of the stage production is retained in quotation marks in a detailed descriptive note.

Additional processing of the photographs series by Matt Testa took place in May 2024. This included a partial review of the images for the presence of harmful content. Content warnings and contextual notes were added to this finding aid. The previous version of the finding aid is available upon request.

Source

Title
Guide to the John Charles Thomas papers
Author
Kerri Sheehan
Date
2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English

Revision Statements

  • 2024-05-15: Finding aid revised to address offensive language in folder titles and to advise users on the presence of harmful content. See the content warning and processing information notes for details.

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Archives Repository

Contact:
Peabody Institute
1 E. Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore MD 21202 USA