Canadian tenor Craig Campbell won acclaim in Canada and the United States for his performances in operetta and on Broadway. Born in London, Ontario in 1878, Campbell had a unique tenor voice, which was described by one critic as "
almost baritone in its richness" (Manning: London Free Press, 1962). Campbell himself used the Italian term tenore robusto (robust tenor) to classify his voice, and due to his wide vocal range, he was able to sing as both a baritone and tenor.
As a youth, Campbell moved with his parents Alexander and Elizabeth Campbell to Hamilton and Owen Sound. They finally settled in Winnipeg, where he made his first stage appearance at the High School Literary Society.
Campbell's formal debut took place in 1908, and from there he went on to enjoy international success. As a vaudeville tenor on the Keith-Orpheum and Loew's circuits, he travelled all over Canada and the United States until the 1930s. In 1912, he was engaged as one of the members of the original cast of Rudolf Friml's operetta The Firefly, and sang the lead role of Jack Travers opposite Emma Trentini. The premiere of the work took place at the Lyric Theatre. That same year, Campbell recorded "A Woman's Smile" from The Firefly on the Columbia label.
Campbell made a number of recordings for Columbia in 1912 and 1913. In addition to solo repertoire he recorded duets such as "Oh, That We Two Were Maying" and "Go, Pretty Rose" with soprano Grace Kerns, and an ensemble piece, "Carmena-Waltz Song," that featured Grace Kerns, contralto Mildred Potter and bass Frank Croxton.
Later he made recordings on the Pathé label. With English soprano Clara Butt, he sang on a recording of Laura Lemon's "My Ain Folk," one of the most popular ballads by a Canadian composer. While Campbell's concert repertoire included German lieder by Brahms and Schumann, French and Italian art songs, folk songs and operatic arias, he recorded mainly repertoire from light opera.
In 1914, Campbell became a member of the American Society of Singers, a New York musical repertory company, and there met fellow Londoner, contralto Cora Tracey (who had been delivered by the same physician). The two remained friends throughout their lives. In a London newspaper article about Campbell, Tracey remembered him as "
a fine looking man, with great personality, and a good actor as well as singer" (Manning: London Free Press, 1962).
Numerous engagements followed for Campbell in American concert halls and on the operetta stage. In 1918, he appeared with the New York Symphony Orchestra, singing a lead role in the cantata Faust and Helena with Swedish contralto Julia Claussen. He sang with the St. Louis Municipal Opera in the 1919 performance of Die Fledermaus, and was also acclaimed for his performances in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
Campbell received glowing reviews from New York music critics such as the New York Tribune's H.E. Krehbiel, who wrote of his intelligence, singing ability and means of reaching the emotions of his audiences. Another critic, Emilie Frances Bauer from The Musical Leader praised Campbell's consummate art and beautiful vocalism. Of Campbell's 1931 performance of Dick Dauntless in Ruddigore at Erlanger's Theater, Brooks Atkinson of the The New York Times wrote that had a certain presence on his feet and in his throat.
After retiring from the stage in the late 1930s, Campbell sang as tenor soloist at St. John's Episcopal Church in New Jersey for 12 years (1942 to 1954), retaining his singing voice until the age of 76 years. He lived in New York until his death in 1965.
Selected recordings available
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- "Craig Campbell, 86, light-opera singer". The New York Times. January 14, 1965. AMICUS 14974826
- Edward Moogk fonds. Correspondence from Craig Campbell to E.B. Manning, May 5, 1961. MVS 120 Box 1. Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN 212664
- Manning, E.B. "Tenor Craig Campbell one of London's 'forgotten' celebrities". London Free Press. 1962. AMICUS 8269010
- Moogk, Edward. Roll Back the Years : history of Canadian recorded sound and its legacy, genesis to 1930. Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1975. xii, 443 p. AMICUS 80154. Also published in French under the title En remontant les années : l'histoire et l'héritage de l'enregistrement sonore au Canada, des débuts à 1930
- "Pathé Frères". Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. 2nd ed. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. xxxii, 1524 p. AMICUS 12048560.