To celebrate Swansea Sparkle this weekend I thought I’d share an article which appeared in the Welsh press one hundred and sixteen years ago. In 1900 the South Wales Daily Post had a chat with a ‘famous artiste’ – Stuart, the Male Patti who was appearing at the Swansea Empire.
“Born 27 years ago, of Italian parents at Dallas, Texas,” said the Daily Post Stuart “is an artiste to his finger tips. The warmth of applause accorded him at the Swansea Empire this week testifies to his skill, but he has been equally lionised in London and many Continental cities.
“What do I think of English and Welsh audiences?” he said in answer to a “Post” reporter. “I think they are very kind indeed. When I came over to England last January I was engaged to appear for one week at the Palace, London, but was compelled to stay for seventeen weeks. The audiences were always very appreciative, and I have the same to say of the folk of Cardiff and Swansea.
“My voice? Well, really, I think it came to me from my mother, who was a singer of note, but, strange to say, she lost her vocal powers at my birth, whilst I grew up – I believe I may say it without egotism – the possessor of the wonderful voice you have heard. It is certainly extraordinary to find a soprano voice of such compass in a man. I can reach from B below to E in alt. The notes, too, are quite legitimately produced there is no straining or effort.”
“Was your rise to the front rank a rapid one?”
“Yes, wonderfully quick. I only made my first appearance on the stage eight years ago. My real name? Ah, that, I cannot tell you. My parents were strongly opposed to my going on the stage, and only assented on my promising to hide my identity. That is why I am and shall continue to be, known simply as ‘Stuart’”.
In Paris, Berlin, and other Continental cities the artiste tried an interesting experiment. Assuming that the audiences would believe him to be an Englishman, he decided to sing in English, although he understands French, German, Spanish, and Italian, and see whether art, purely and simply, would carry him through. It did with wonderful success. In. Berlin, especially, the, musically-cultured Germans were delighted with him. They compared him with some of the prima donnas.
“Do you know,” he observed, “I think you English are greatly in error in believing that the whole world is opposed to you. I found little or no evidence of that feeling on the Continent, and as for America, although there must always be diplomatic differences, I think the two nations would come together immediately either was in serious trouble.”
We have said that Stuart, is an artiste to his finger tips. He is so much so that having so long performed as a female impersonator, his mannerisms have become quite effeminate. He wears his female attire with admirable grace, and even after talking to him for an hour you find it difficult to persuade yourself that he is a mere man. A gentleman of artistic instincts, he goes into raptures over the historic remains in the Old World, and it is interesting to note that he considers Cardiff Castle equal to anything in Europe.”
Despite his reticence in not giving his name Stuart was actually one of America’s most noted female impersonators. His real name was Everett Stuart a former postal worker in Wichita, Kansas. He joined the McIntyre & Heath minstrel show in 1887 and became known by his stage name “Stuart, the Male Patti” – in reference to Adelina Patti a famous coloratura soprano (who made her home in Wales at Craig-y-Nos in the Brecon Beacons). His first big number was, ironically, a song entitled ‘The Letter That Never Came’ – and wags quickly nicknamed him the ‘Mail Patti.’
In 1898 Stuart gained fame when he appeared in the New 1492 a sort of comic re-enactment of the discovery of America in which he played Queen Isabella. Reviewers however were anxious to reassure their readers that Stuart was “inoffensively articulate in his female impersonation.”[i] A theme followed by other media coverage. The South Wales Daily Post reassured their readers that:
“attired as a lady – his robes are very elaborate, by the way – he sings a trio of songs in a rich contralto voice that would deceive anyone were his sex not stated on the programme. Stuart is certainly a wonder, a freak perhaps; he is yet a deservedly successful music-hall artiste, and is worth going a long way to see and hear.”
The Western Mail noted:
“He (or she) has been described as the “male Patti,” and his soprano singing on Monday certainly left one in doubt as to which sex he (or still she) rightly belonged … but in the third section he removed all doubt by ejaculating “What, ho! Bill,” with a loud genuineness that no mere lady could touch with a fishing-rod. He won the applause of pit and gallery.”
Two years later when Stuart appeared in Cardiff the Evening Express also reassured its readers that although his “soprano singing is almost too realistic … he takes care to prove his identity.”
Stuart toured Europe between 1899 and 1908. It’s unclear what happened to him after that.
[i] Atkins, Gary 2003 ‘Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging’
Images from Library of Congress