Since the Music Academy’s inception in 1947, the prestigious summer festival and its reputation for high quality performances have been created and continue to be made possible by the hard work of women. Isabel Morse Jones, for example, who worked as a music critic for the LA Times from 1925 to 1947 was one of the Music Academy of the West’s founders. Jones believed that music enhances culture, and she was determined to create a rich and lasting artistic culture in Southern California based on musical excellence that would draw in students, performers, and listeners from around the world. Unlike many at the time, Jones also advocated for the training and recognition of American musicians and composers. While modern festivals include students from all over the world, Morse Jones’s desire to bring musical excellence to Southern California is evident in the many high-quality performances during the summer festival and guest artists throughout the year.
Yet, Isabel Morse Jones was not the only person, nor the only woman, committed to encouraging the growth of classical music in Santa Barbara. Helen Marso, the long-time personal assistant to Mary and John Jefferson, inherited their Miraflores Estate, after the Jeffersons’ deaths. Marso then used money from the will to purchase the property in order to gift it to the Music Academy. Marso’s great niece described Marso as a dedicated advocate for education and the Miraflores estate has become the Music Academy’s campus that you all know and love today.
While women like Morse Jones and Marso worked to establish and found the Music Academy, women have also created and maintained a high level of pedagogical excellence. Lotte Lehmann, a German singer whose name graces concert halls at both Music Academy and UCSB, began her very successful singing career in Berlin with the Hamburg opera and was well respected by composers such as Puccini and Richard Strauss. For the latter, Lehmann premiered lead operatic roles. In 1938, Lehmann emigrated to southern California to flee the Nazis and after her retirement from a successful performing career, she taught at the Music Academy. She became the director of the Academy’s Voice Department and attracted students such as Grace Bumbry and Marilyn Horne, the latter of whom would become the Academy’s vocal director in 1997 (and continues to teach during the summer). Lehmann’s “companion” (who was possibly her significant other), Frances Holden, also left a large property to the Music Academy after she passed, the sale from which allowed the Music Academy to endow full scholarships for its summer students in perpetuity.