Minnie Emmett

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b. c.1862, USA, d. USA. During the 1880s-90s, Emmett appeared in vaudeville in partnership with Frank J. McCabe, to whom she was married and with whom she had at least four children. Also in the 1890s…
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b. c.1862, USA, d. USA. During the 1880s-90s, Emmett appeared in vaudeville in partnership with Frank J. McCabe, to whom she was married and with whom she had at least four children. Also in the 1890s she became one of the first women to make a name as a recording artist. Emmett, who had a clear and true soprano voice, was astute enough to realize that the approach to recording made by others seldom made the best of voices straining to be heard via primitive recording equipment. She adapted her delivery to suit conditions and as a result not only did her voice sound good, but also her records, cylinders and discs, sold well. It was quite common in those days for a singer and the song to be announced on the record, usually by a stentorian male bellow; Emmett sometimes made her own ladylike announcements and this too had a beneficial effect on her popularity.

Emmett’s recording career dates certainly from 1894 and among her early records are many that drew upon the musical theatre. Some of the songs she sang are ‘Baby, Baby’, from The Lady Slavey, recorded for the Columbia Phonograph Company in 1898, ‘The Snow Baby’ (a John Philip Sousa song, also dated 1898), ‘Mary’s A Grand Old Name’ and ‘So Long, Mary’ (both by George M. Cohan, recorded in 1905), and ‘All Alone’ (Harry Von Tilzer, from c.1911). Emmett also sang duets with tenor Roger Harding, including ‘She Was Happy Till She Met You’, ‘Were You Not To Ko-Ko Plighted’, ‘At Last We Are Alone’ and ‘Home To Our Mountains’.

Emmett’s pioneering work has been immortalized through writers such as Quentin Riggs and Tim Gracyk, the latter’s web page continuing to keep her name alive more than a century after her hey days. She appears to have stopped recording around 1912. Even the assiduous research of Gracyk has been unable to unearth details of Emmett’s later life, or of her death although she was apparently still alive at the end of the 30s and living in a retirement home.