In One Woman in a Hundred (University of Illinois Press, 2013), author Mary Sue Welsh shares the remarkable biography of harpist Edna Phillips (1907-2003), who joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930. Phillips was not only the Philadelphia Orchestra's first female member, but also the first woman to hold a principal position in any major orchestra in America.
Phillips was just twenty-three years old when she was plucked from the Curtis Institute of Music in the midst of her studies and named principal harpist by renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski. Blessed with a nimble wit and passion for music, Phillips not only survived, but thrived in the all-male world she entered - despite having to face hostility from her peers, skepticism from the public, unwanted amorous advances, and her own struggle to overcome a lack of experience and improve her playing.
Welsh began working on the book as a memoir for Phillips in 1990, but put it aside when Phillips became ill several years later. After Phillips passed away in 2003, Welsh returned to the project, this time approaching the story as a biography. In One Woman in a Hundred, she draws on extensive interviews with Phillips, members of her family, and her colleagues, and in-depth research from numerous archival sources to memorialize the life and times of one of Philadelphia's most deserving unsung heroes.
In addition to telling Phillips's personal story, Welsh's book presents a rare backstage look at the fabulous Philadelphia Orchestra during an important era in its history as well as a vivid portrait of one of the twentieth century's most innovative and controversial conductors, Leopold Stokowski. Through Phillips' eyes, readers see Stokowski's intensity in rehearsal and during live performance; his famous affair with Greta Garbo; his escalating wars with the orchestra's board of directors; and his devotion to spreading the reach of classical music beyond the concert hall, which paved the way for the Philadelphia Orchestra's groundbreaking performance in Fantasia.
Classical music fans, Philadelphia history buffs, and women of all ages will enjoy Welsh's One Woman in a HundrEd. Readers will come away with a greater appreciation for these topics and more: