This year at the Grammy Awards, Lifetime Achievement awards are going to bands like The Beatles and The Isley Brothers — long overdue, you could say. But they look like young punks next to another Lifetime Achievement recipient: Maud Powell.
Powell was born in Illinois in 1867. She picked up the violin as a young child and really never put it down. At the turn of the 20th century, classical music in America was scoffed at by Europeans. But Powell became the first American-born violinist — man or woman — to change that by winning over European audiences. She toured, playing her violin for audiences across the U.S. In those days, if a woman made music, she usually played the piano, and she did it in parlor rooms or at dinner parties –not in the spotlight on a stage.
Rachel Barton Pine is a violinst who has long been inspiried by Maud Powell, even releasing her own tribute recordings of Powell’s work. Barton Pine says that though she grew up a big fan of music history, she never encountered Powell until she was 20 years old, and received a copy of Powell’s biography in the mail from its author, Karen Shaffer.
“It was a real revelation — not just because of how she was the greatest woman violinist in the world during her lifetime, and playing the works of black composers when white instrumentalists just didn’t do that,” Barton Pine says. “It was the values by which she lived her life, playing concerts for communities that had never before had a classical concert, and using the recording technology as a further way to spread great music all over the place to people who had not yet had a chance to fall in love with it.”
Rachel Barton Pine is one of the people accepting the Lifetime Achievement Grammy on behalf of Maud Powell, who died in 1920. Hear more of her conversation with NPR’s Rachel Martin at the audio link.