Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10







Among the outstanding men of Ohio is Edgar Stillman-

Kelley, the dean of American composers. For sixty years he has

enriched the musical literature of the world. Contemporaneous

with Edward McDowell, Horatio Parker, George Chadwick, and

Arthur Foote, he struggled, as they did, for recognition in a day

when only Europeans could win applause.

Edgar Kelley was born in Sparta, Wisconsin, on April 14;

1857, the first child born in that town. His parents were Hiram

Edgar Kelley and Mary Clarinda (Bingham) Kelley, both of

good New England stock.1 The first seventeen years of Edgar's

life were spent in Sparta, where he imbibed all the culture that

his parents and their New England associates could give him.

Hiram Kelley was a revenue officer; in his office was housed the

town library, and in his home was housed the church library.2

Thus in this frontier town Edgar became familiar with the best

minds of all ages while yet a child. He learned to know and love

Shakespeare through his father's dramatic reading of the Shakes-

pearean plays.3

While some of Kelley's most vivid recollections are of his

early home, his work seems to have been influenced more by his

New England ancestry than by his frontier life. His mother


1 Hiram Kelley was a descendant of Joseph Jenks, the superintendent of the

first iron foundry in the colonies, the recipient of the first recorded patent in the

colonies, the maker of the dies from which the famous "pine tree shillings" were

struck, and the inventor of the scythe from which our modern scythe has developed.

See Dictionary of American Biography (New York, 1928-1937). New International

Encyclodpedia, 2d ed. (New York, 1928), and Roger Burlingame, March of the Iron

Men (New York, 1938), 63.

Mary Bingham Kelley was a descendant of Governor William Bradford and

Thomas Bingham, a landed proprietor of Connecticut.

2 Ophia D. Smith, Edgar Stillman-Kelley, pamphlet, 1.

3 This familiarity with Shakespeare played an important part in his life. The

hearing of Mendelssohnn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" music played by the im-

becile, "Blind Tom," contributed to Edgar's decision to become a professional

musician. He had been undecided between music and painting.--Rupert Hughes and

Arthur Elson, American Composers (Boston, 1914), 59.