Cheatham, Kitty (1864-1946) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Cheatham, Kitty (1864-1946)
Variant Name: Catherine Smiley Bugg Cheatham

Historical Note:

Catherine Smiley Cheatham (1864-1946), known as "Kitty Cheatham" was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1864. Her father, Col. Richard Boone Cheatham, was a politician in Tennessee that served as the Mayor of Nashville from 1860-1862. As a child, Cheatham studied music privately but was educated in the Nashville Public School System. She gave her first public performance at age 14, when she performed at the First Presbyterian Church in Nashville. Soon thereafter, Cheatham studied music in New York, Paris, and eventually the University of Berlin. In 1894, she married William Henry Thomson, who supported her career in music.

As a vocalist, she gave her debut international performance in London, England in 1904. Soon after she met the Royal Family and gave several performances for them in the years that followed. She specialized African American folk songs, children's songs, and popular operetta arias. In 1913, she returned to the University of Berlin where she presented a solo recital in front of 15,000 students and faculty members. By the end of her career she had amassed a repertoire of over 1,000 songs in nine different languages, numerous recitations, and several prose monologues. Cheatham published two books of children's songs Kitty Cheatham - Her Book (published in 1915) and A Nursery Garland Woven by Kitty Cheatham (published in 1917).

Although she is known predominantly as a recital vocalist, Cheatham also gave several performances with the New York Symphyony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, and several other US orchestras. At the time, she was noted for her arrangements for voice and orchestra including her arrangement of Walter Prichard Eaton's adaptation of Hoffman's Fairy Tales. She also gave several rectials, illustrated lectures, and monologues in Russia, France, England, Germany, and Iceland. She delievered an address on music in Iceland at the Millennial Celebrations that occurred on June 28, 1930. It is from these international performances that she gained a reputation for having revived interest in American Folk music in Europe. She was even named honorary vice president of the International Women's Congress in Budapest in 1937.

Cheatham was a profoundly spiritual person and many of the songs she sang carried Christian themes and moral messages. In 1920, she wrote America Triumphant Under God and His Christ, a nearly 100 page serman. Throughout her life she was a devout member of the Christian Science Church. Cheatham died on January 5, 1946 in Greenwhich, Connecticut.


Who's Who in Music (1918, 1941)

International Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians (1964)

Don Huxon, Women in Music (1993)

State of Tennessee Library and Archives Kitty Cheatham Papers Finding Aid at:

Note Author: Nolan Vallier

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