Marilyn Horne recalls childhood in Bradford

Like any grandmother, Marilyn Horne wants to show her grandchildren the place where she grew up.

Like any grandmother, Marilyn Horne wants to show her grandchildren the place where she grew up.

That home on Avenue B perched above the Tunungwant Creek has disappeared since her World War II childhood in Bradford.

Little Marilyn would traipse behind her mother, Berneice Horne, who was the assessor in the Fifth Ward, as she walked from house to house performing assessments. The neighborhood was largely Italian and “everywhere my mother went, they wanted to feed her,” Marilyn Horne recalled.

“Little did I know that I would spend so much time in Italy,” she said. “I'd love to go back (in time) because I can speak Italian now.”

She spent that time in Italy, of course, on some of the most famous stages in the world - at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, La Scala in Milan and Teatro di San Carlo in Naples - as one of the most renowned opera singers of the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s.

On Saturday, Horne will bring all of her worlds together when her family, friends, and people from her hometown meet in Bradford at the dedication and opening of the Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center in Marilyn Horne Hall.

The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford developed the museum to share items from Horne's archives, which she bequeathed to the university.

The dedication will take place at 2 p.m. in Veterans Square, where Horne gave some of her first performances, singing with her sister, Gloria, at rallies to support FDR and the sale of war bonds.

She will be able to show her daughter, grandchildren, younger brother (who was born after her family moved to California), niece and nephew Avenue B, from which she watched the Tuna Creek spill its banks and flood downtown during 1945, and Veterans Square.  She can also show them the Church of the Ascension, where she and Gloria sang in the children's choir, and the graves of her parents and grandparents.

Horne's father, Bentz Horne, was a small-town politician. “He really loved living in California, but in Bradford, he knew everybody in town,” she said.

In her 1983 autobiography, “My Life,” it is clear that Horne's father, who died when she was 22, remains ever-present in her life. He loved his small town, and she nurtures her memories of seeing him in his element - singing with community choirs, selling war bonds and just generally enjoying the company of the many people who knew him.

Marilyn Horne was born in 1934 in Bradford at the height of the Depression. In addition to her older sister, Gloria, she had an older brother, Dick. During the depression years, her family ran a small grocery store out of its living room on Elm Street. “My mother bought and sold day-old bread,” she recalled. “Later she went on to be a very successful business woman. Dad made five dollars a Sunday as a soloist in church.”

Most of her memories of Bradford concern the war years.

“I grew up right smack dab with World War II. That has a lot of memories that are indelible in my mind,” she said. “The years of the war were very exciting. Some things were going on all of the time.” She remembered helping with scrap drives and saving up to buy war bonds by pasting 10-cent stamps into books. A full book bought a bond.

She took early voice lessons with several Bradford teachers, including Edna Luce, who she said taught her the basis of breath support that she used her entire career.

In her early days performing patriotic tunes with the Citizens Band, Horne learned to love an audience. Her first recital was held at Kane High School, shortly before her family moved to Long Beach, Calif., when she was 11. Bentz Horne, a semi-professional singer, had already realized that his daughter's voice would require proper training, nurturing and exposure not available in his hometown.

But here is a story for all children who become discouraged with their lack of success in their chosen passion. Marilyn “Jackie” Horne -- future toast of two continents - did not make her grade-school glee club. The teacher said she sang too loudly. However, she did appear in skits and plays and had the chance to belt out “Up in Santa Land” while playing the part of Jolly Molly in her fifth-grade Christmas show.

“I have very good memories of my childhood,” she said.

She is sure to have good memories of this weekend as well.

Of the museum's creation, she said, “It's a very warm feeling, and I have to thank one man who is behind all of this, and that's Livingston (Alexander, Pitt-Bradford's president). He's worked very hard for this whole situation.”

Horne initially renewed her ties to her hometown through the efforts of her foundation to bring two recitals a year of young singers to Bradford at the expense of the Foundation. A new friend, Jim Guelfi, and the Bradford Creative and Performing Arts Center were very supportive. Separately, she performed with BCPAC in 2000 at Bradford Area High School.

Shortly thereafter, she served as an honorary chairwoman to help Pitt-Bradford raise money for the construction of Blaisdell Hall, which is home to the arts at Pitt-Bradford. When Pitt-Bradford honored her for her work on that campaign, she decided to give her archives to the university, despite being wooed by the Library of Congress.

“I was at a lunch at the Alexanders with Bradford leaders. I was looking around and decided that my archives should come to Bradford,” she said. “It just felt right. This has all worked out way beyond what I would have thought of.”