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Lucy (Lucie) Howell (1888–1985)

by David Black

This article was published:

Lucy (Lucie) Howell (1888-1985), soprano and singing teacher, was born on 6 July 1888 in Perth, fourth of nine children of Western Australian-born parents Thomas John Howell, law clerk and later a nurseryman and gardener, and his wife Clara Ellen, née Birch. Educated at White Gum Valley State School and Princess May Girls’ High School, Fremantle, Lucy worked as a dental nurse for several years at Fremantle. She studied singing with several teachers including Eva Randell and Gertrude Hutton. Appearing in many local operatic and oratorio productions and recitals, she earned a reputation as `Westralia’s first soprano’. On 12 November 1919 at Johnston Memorial Church, Fremantle, she married with Congregational forms a Welsh-born returned soldier, William Henry Date, who was then resident in an army hospital at Cottesloe Beach. They had no children. Date suffered from ongoing ill health and died of cancer on 7 October 1928. Lucy (professionally known as Lucie) then lived with her parents and younger sister Hilda in their Cottesloe Beach (Mosman Park) home. She and Hilda stayed on there after the deaths of their parents in 1947 and 1948.

In the 1920s Howell had sung on radio; she continued to sing in public until the late 1930s. She began teaching singing at `Studio 6’ in the Musgrove’s Ltd building, Murray Street, Perth, in 1926. Her professionalism was such that she always employed a trained accompanist. By 1930 her students were appearing in public recitals and were heard in radio broadcasts. In 1939 16-year-old Gwen Cordingley won the Deanna Durbin contest at the Piccadilly Theatre. In 1944-69 thirty-eight of her pupils were State vocal winners of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s concerto and vocal competitions; four won national finals: Elise Longwill (1950), Patricia Connop (1957), Lynette Howieson (1958) and Glenys Fowles (1967). Fowles later won a scholarship to study at the New York Metropolitan Opera; Megan Sutton was a finalist in the 1967 `Sun Aria’ contest. Another of her pupils and sometime studio accompanist was the soprano Molly McGurk, who won a Churchill fellowship in 1967.

Howell had first joined the Western Australian Music Teachers’ Association as an associate-member in 1918; she became a full member in 1929. From 1932 she served almost continuously on the executive: she was president in 1964, vice-president for seven terms, social president or vice-president (1968-82) and patron (1978-84). The association conferred a life membership on her in 1973. She was also active on the Western Australia Orchestral Subscribers Committee and was made patron of the Guild of Young Artists in 1961. For more than forty years Howell was the doyen of classical singing teachers in Perth. Although she became increasingly set in her ways, her capacity to find and develop talent and to select appropriate repertoire remained second to none. In 1969 she was appointed MBE; she retired in 1973. She died on 27 October 1985 at Nedlands and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections (1978)
  • R. Jamieson, What Harmony Is This? (1986)
  • West Australian, 29 Oct 1985, p 24
  • Music Teachers’ Bulletin, Nov-Dec 1985, p 12.

Citation details

David Black, 'Howell, Lucy (Lucie) (1888–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Date, Lucie

6 July, 1888
Perth, Western Australia, Australia


27 October, 1985 (aged 97)
Nedlands, Perth, Western Australia, Australia