The city of Aurora has been designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of 1000 places in the United States that have seen history made by women. The action came after the Aurora Historical Society nominated Maud Powell, the 19th century violinist from Aurora who rose above the expectations of her era by becoming an internationally renowned concert violinist as well as a pioneer in the recording industry.
Powell, 1867- 1920, grew up in Aurora and attended Center School. A child prodigy, she was an Aurora celebrity even before she was tall enough to have her feet touch the stage floor. She frequently performed with various ensembles and held the chair of first violin with the local symphony, the Edwin Stein Orchestra, performing at the Coulter Opera House.
Soon she was taking the train into Chicago for violin lessons on Saturdays, but by the age of 13 she had advanced beyond all her teachers. Thanks to the financial sacrifices of her progressive parents, she completed her musical education in Europe, returning to Aurora when she was 18 to begin a career of international concertizing despite the biases of the times against women artists.
Although she spent decades performing with the great orchestras of Europe, South America and Africa, Powell also concertized energetically throughout the United States. She had a patriotic desire to raise the musical tastes of the still-young country and accepted invitations to appear, she said, “wherever they will have me”. A true educator, she combined in her programming the great classics, composers new to America such as Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, and also the works of American women and Black composers.
Powell immediately grasped that a new invention, the phonograph, could bring great music into homes around the nation and she became, in 1904, the first instrumentalist of either gender to record for the Victor Talking Machine Company Red Seal Label. In 2014 she received a posthumous Emmy award for lifetime achievement.