Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Baker, Ada Winifred Weekes (1866–1949)

by Anne O'Brien

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Ada Winifred Weekes Baker (1866-1949), teacher of singing, was born on 11 December 1866 at Strawberry Hills, Sydney, ninth child of George Frederick Baker, auctioneer, and his wife Sarah Wilkinson, née Epsley, both English born. At 15 Ada started to teach singing at Wagga Wagga to earn money to take lessons in Sydney. She also raised £50 for the local hospital and £38 in 1886 for the survivors of the shipwrecked Ly-ee-moon. On 23 April 1887 she married a clerk Charles Henry Hall (d.1937) in Sydney with Congregational forms; their daughters Beatrice and Vera were born in 1887 and 1889.

Marriage and motherhood did not prevent Ada Baker from pursuing a career. A 'vivacious' soprano with a 'rich voice', she appeared on Harry Rickards's vaudeville circuit in 1894-98 and as Zorilda in C. B. Westmacott's pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor, in December 1896; she made commercial cylinder-recordings in 1898 for Allan & Co., Melbourne music publishers, and toured China and India with a Gilbert and Sullivan opera company. The Halls lived in Perth in 1901-05. Ada taught singing, performed with the Fremantle Orchestral Society, the Perth Musical Union and the Lyric Club, and played Clairette in Lecocq's comic opera, La Fille de Madame Angot.

Although her husband remained in the West, by 1908 Ada was back in Sydney, with a studio in George Street. From about 1911 she lived at Pymble and by 1918 had moved her city studio to Paling's building, Ash Street. She taught both solo and choral singing, revived Ethel Pedley's St Cecilia Choir (which raised £1000 for the local branch of the British Red Cross Society during World War I) and supported the Australian Music Teachers' Alliance. Known professionally as 'Madame Ada Baker' by 1921, she showed 'infectious enthusiasm and energy' in staging concerts and over forty light operas and musical comedies—such as Ma Mie Rosette (in 1935) and Les Cloches de Corneville (in 1939)—for her pupils and to raise money for charity. Many of her young singers enjoyed success at eisteddfods.

Patriotic and generous, in 1927 Ada became a life governor of the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children; between 1927 and 1933 her pupils raised £500 for this institution. In February 1945 she sponsored a 'grandmothers for victory league' to raise money for the Third Victory Loan: one of her five grandsons had been killed while serving with the Royal Air Force. She donated the proceeds of a concert in 1947 to the Food for Britain Appeal.

Ada worked until she was 82; in her later years she taught singing in schools. Past pupils remembered her as 'a legend' and honoured her retirement with a testimonial concert in Sydney Town Hall in 1949. Survived by her daughters, she died that year on 24 July at her Pymble home and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • The Grand Tivoli Variety Album No 5 (Syd, 1898)
  • J. Summers, Music and Musicians (Perth, 1910)
  • E. Keane, Music for a Hundred Years (Syd, 1954)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Aug 1895, 25 Dec 1896, 22, 29 Feb 1908, 15 Jan 1910, 5 Aug 1912, 6 Apr 1918, 26 July 1924, 3 Dec 1936, 27 July 1939, 27 Feb 1945
  • Australian Musical News and Digest, 1 Sept 1947, 1 Sept 1949
  • Tivoli (Sydney) programmes, 1894-98 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Rachel Forster Hospital, records (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Fremantle Orchestral Society, Foundation and Early History, and Concert reports (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Perth Orchestral Society, newsclippings (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Perth Musical Union, ledger book, and programmes (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Anne O'Brien, 'Baker, Ada Winifred Weekes (1866–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baker-ada-winifred-weekes-9407/text16535, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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