Kathleen Ferrier (22 April 1912 - 8 October 1953), was a British contralto born in Blackburn, and later moved with her family to Higher Walton, Lancashire.
She left school at 14 and worked as a telephone operator in Blackburn. She married a bank manager called Bert Wilson in 1935, and moved to Silloth and later to Carlisle, in the north of England. It was in Carlisle that her husband bet her that she would not take part in a singing competition. She entered and won in two categories - singing and piano. It was this which brought her talents to public attention, and was a significant factor in her deciding to pursue a career in singing. During the early days of the war she gave concerts for CEMA and then, on the advice of Malcolm Sargent, moved to London in 1942, where her main career began. Her marriage, however, did not work out, and was annulled after 12 years. Her unique timbre was in part due to a medical anomaly: her throat proved exceptionally wide.
She studied with Dr Hutchinson in Newcastle and later with the baritone, Roy Henderson, who was a well known singing teacher at the time. Benjamin Britten wrote several parts specifically for her, including Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia, Abraham and Isaac (also written for Peter Pears), and part of the Spring Symphony (1949). She worked with many famous conductors, including Bruno Walter, John Barbirolli, Malcolm Sargent, Clemens Krauss, Herbert von Karajan, Eduard van Beinum and also with Benjamin Britten. She also worked with other famous singers such as Isobel Baillie, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Julius Patzak and Peter Pears.
Among other composers who wrote specifically for her were Lennox Berkeley, Arthur Bliss and Edmund Rubbra.
Ferrier also excelled in the music of Mahler, in Bach and in Handel. Her recitals often included songs by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms and towards the end of her career she sang Chausson's Poeme de l'amour et de la mer - her only major work from the French repertory. Ferrier is well remembered for interpretations of British folk songs, including the lovely Blow the wind southerly.
Much in demand throughout the U.K, she also sang regularly in the Netherlands, where she was extremely popular, and in France, Germany, Italy and in Scandinavia. She paid three visits to North America (1948,1949 and 1950) and sang at each of the first six Edinburgh International Festivals - a fact of which she was justifiably proud.
Her final performance was as Eurydice in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice at Covent Garden in February 1953, when a bone in her leg broke during the performance but she continued singing. She had previously sung this role at Glyndebourne in 1947 and in the Netherlands in 1949 and 1951 a recording of the later being found in the archives of the Dutch National Opera and released on vinyl in the early 1980's, but the Royal Opera House performance was sung in English. She only sang in two performances. Ferrier died of breast cancer, which had spread to her bones, in 1953.