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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Griffen Foley, James Joseph (1872–1924)

by John Carmody

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

James Joseph Griffen Foley (1872-1924), journalist, singer and music critic, was born at Hyderabad, India (Pakistan), only son of Patrick James Foley, Indian army, and his wife Catherine, née Griffen—both from Templemore, Tipperary, Ireland. Brought up and educated in Ireland, he studied music in England, where he had experience in cathedral work, and in Italy, becoming fluent in Italian. A bass, he reputedly came to Australia about 1894, with a visiting opera company and had to abandon the stage after an accident during a performance.

Settling in Sydney, Griffen Foley taught singing and voice production; his most noted pupil was Alfred O'Shea. On 3 April 1904, he married Mary Theresa Donnelly. He continued to sing in concerts, often with his wife, his pupils and various small ensembles which he formed and trained, such as the Griffen Foley choristers and the Euterpean Society. A devout Catholic, he was an authority on ecclesiastical music, especially the masses of Palestrina, Gregorian chant and plain-song. He devoted much effort to raising the standard of church music, and was choirmaster to several churches, including All Saints Anglican Church, Woollahra. His wife died childless in 1908; on 28 December 1910 he married a Canadian typist, Lilla Louise Lebrun Marsh.

In 1909 Griffen Foley had become music critic for the Star and was employed by the Sun from its foundation in 1910. For it he wrote the popular columns 'Crotchets and Quavers' and 'Plays and Players' and, with Howard Ashton and Henry Pryce, contributed to the regular popular comedy feature 'The Moving Picture Show'. Griffen Foley was also the Sydney correspondent for the Australian Musical News, and Australian correspondent for the English Musical Times and the American Musical Courier. His friends included the singers Antonia Delores (Trebelli), John McCormack and Melba, who claimed that Griffen Foley 'was more than a critic: he was an inspiration. When I read what Griffen Foley had to say about me I used to feel as though he had, in some subtle way, himself thrown a new light on my own interpretations'. Fellow critic G. de Cairos Rego believed that Griffen Foley 'did a world of good in peppering away at the professional voice-destroyer; of the blind leading the blind'. Since some of the 'destroyers' were prominent in Sydney musical education—and he made no secret of their identity—he had enemies; they were compounded when on Melba's advice he declined to join the staff of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music.

Griffen Foley died of cancer at his home at Chatswood on 12 May 1924 and was buried in the Catholic section of Northern Suburbs cemetery. He was survived by his second wife, and their son and three daughters, for whom Melba organized a benefit concert. His wife studied beauty culture and the treatment of hair with the Ogilvie sisters in New York and as 'Louise Le Brun' opened an American-style beauty and hair-dressing salon next door to the Hotel Australia in 1926. His son John Raymond was well known as a journalist and film and theatre critic. His sister Agnes (1865-1932), as Mother St John of the Cross, was prioress of the Convent of Carmel in Sydney and later founded and directed the Order's Melbourne house.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Musical News, 2 June 1924, p 25
  • Woman's World, 1 Apr 1926, p 279
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Mar 1903, 14, 15 May 1924
  • Sun (Sydney), 13, 14, 17 May, 2 Aug 1924
  • private information.

Citation details

John Carmody, 'Griffen Foley, James Joseph (1872–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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