Frances Blaisdell is typically celebrated as a pioneering woman musician, one who led the way for her gender in this or that male-dominated realm of serious music. While this characterization is accurate and socially quite relevant today, it may lead some to overlook her larger achievement: Blaisdell was a virtuoso flutist who would have enjoyed fame in the music world, even if she hadn't blazed trails and opened doors. Among many firsts in her career, she was the first woman admitted to the Institute of Musical Art, the forerunner of the Juilliard School. Blaisdell played regularly as a soloist, chamber player, and orchestra member for nearly 50 years. And for more than that span she was a teacher at the most prestigious music schools, including Mannes, Manhattan School of Music, New York University, Dalcroze School, and Stanford University.
Born in rural New Jersey in 1911, Frances Blaisdell began lessons on the flute at age five with her father. She later studied privately with New York Philharmonic flutist Ernest Wagner. In 1928 she was admitted to the Institute of Musical Art at the insistence of legendary flutist Georges Barrère, after auditioning for him. Barrère was her most important teacher there. Later teachers included William Kincaid and Marcel Moyse. In 1930 she played first flute in the National Orchestra Association, Leon Barzin serving as conductor. Later on she became first chair flutist under Fritz Busch in the New Opera Company Orchestra. In 1933 Stokowski led her in an orchestral performance and declared she was worthy of admittance to his Philadelphia Orchestra, but such a status for a woman was prohibited by the board of directors.
In 1932, the year of her debut with the New York Philharmonic in Mozart's Flute Concerto No. 2, Blaisdell began playing in Phil Spitalny Girls' Orchestra, which included regular appearances on the General Electric Radio Show. Blaisdell also performed daily at Radio City Music Hall in the mid-'30s.
In the late '30s Blaisdell served, with pianist Frank La Forge, as accompanist for singer Lily Pons in a series of concerts. From 1941 she played in the Barrère Trio, replacing Georges Barrère who had suffered a stroke. She also played in the Blaisdell Woodwind Quintet, with her husband Alexander Williams, first clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic. After more than 40 years' activity in New York, Blaisdell moved to California (1973) and launched a 35-year teaching career at Stanford University.