Marion Talley was hailed as a musical prodigy at eight years old. Her astounding voice brought her early notoriety. But like many who gained fame at the loss of childhood, the pressure of being in the public eye would later prompt her to live in seclusion. She died in oblivion and her death went unnoticed by the music world.
When Talley was six months old her family moved to Kansas City. Before she was five years old she was given piano lessons, at seven she studied the violin, and at eight she was singing in her church choir. She was asked to play the leading role in the Kansas City Grand Opera’s production of "Mignon" when she was 15. Those who knew the demands of opera urged that she go to New York for voice training.
Kansas City leaders put together a fund-raising concert on October 17, 1922, and raised $10,000 to pay for Talley’s studies in New York. Back home there were weekly stories in the newspapers, and then another benefit concert was arranged so she could study in Italy. The whole city wanted her to sing at the Metropolitan Opera and money was raised so she could move to New York. In 1926 at 19, she made her debut at the Metropolitan as Gilda in Rigoletto and received critical acclaim. She sang over fifty performances with the Met and made recordings for Vitaphone. The people in Kansas City were her biggest fans and she was grateful to those who had helped her.
Soon the stress of performing took some of the joy out of her voice; this was recognized by critics and fans back home. After two failed marriages, a discovery that she had a child that she had kept hidden, Hollywood films that were not successful, and a short success on radio, Marion Talley decided to retire at the age of 30. A star that had been so bright had dimmed.
A version of this article previously appeared at http://www.kchistory.org/content/biography-marion-talley-1906-1983-opera...
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