STONE, THEODORE CHARLES
STONE, THEODORE CHARLES (1912–1998). Theodore Charles Stone, opera singer, writer, and teacher, was born in Gainesville, Texas, on November 18, 1912, the son of Will Stone. During his operatic career which lasted several decades, Stone, an African American, “appeared on stages throughout the United States and in several European cities before critical audiences winning acclaim from some of the world’s recognized music critics for his concert performances” and rich baritone voice.
Despite his ultimate success, no guarantee of a distinguished career waiting in the future existed for Stone as he grew up in Gainesville. Apparently orphaned in 1923, Theodore Charles Stone, along with his six brothers and sisters, went to live with his grandmother, Mrs. Mary Pempleton at her home in Gainesville. Economic difficulties haunted the family, and young Theodore found work while still attending Booker T. Washington School to help supplement the family’s income. A local woman, Mrs. Otto Veath, provided him with a job and while working at her home, the young boy experienced his first real taste of classical music as Mrs. Veath was an accomplished organist. Recognizing his interest in music, Veath started giving her young protégé piano lessons.
While records no longer exist, it appears that Theodore Stone graduated from Booker T. Washington and about 1932 made his way, as so many other African Americans in that era did, to Chicago. There he studied at the Chicago Musical College and then accepted a job at the Marcy Center. His potential was soon recognized and Stone—the first African American to do so—received and accepted a scholarship to study abroad at the Sibelius Academy, an internationally-acclaimed music academy in Helsinki, Finland. The Gainesville native later performed for two of Europe’s royal families, that of King Olaf of Norway and King Gustav VIII of Sweden.
The outbreak of World War II compelled Stone to return to the United States in 1939. The voyage home proved somewhat perilous as Stone outlined in a letter to his brother Sam. He recalled that, “as the ship crossed the Baltic Sea, it was escorted by Swedish gun ships to protect it from German destroyers and the ship anchored each night because of the danger of mines.” Once back in America he resumed his teaching career, serving as Director of Music at Parkway Community House and Director of the Musical Arts Bureau in Chicago while continuing to perform both for the National Negro Opera and other groups. In 1944 Stone portrayed Baron Douphol in La Traviata. Although he performed a few times in Gainesville over the years, he spent most of his time in Chicago. Well-known among Chicago’s opera and concert enthusiasts, Stone was “admired for his social gifts, his innate charm, his dancer’s grace and for his well-deserved standing as a dapper, dashing fashion plate.”
Besides music, Stone also enjoyed a successful writing career which commenced with critiques he wrote for such newspapers as the Metropolitan Post, the Chicago Bee, founded by African-American entrepreneur Anthony Overton, and the Pittsburgh Courier. He later became a major contributor to the Chicago Defender and the Chicago Crusader newspapers.
Theodore Stone was well-respected by other musicians, as seen by his election as president of both the Chicago Music Association and the National Association for Negro Musicians—positions he held for several years. Through those roles he worked to promote the interests of young artists.
Mr. Stone, who corresponded with the “likes of author Langston Hughes, blues legend W. C. Handy, and Todd Duncan, the vocalist in George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess,” died in Chicago at the South Shore Nursing Home on October 17, 1998.
Chicago Sun-Times, October 31, 1998. Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1998. Eric Ledell Smith, Blacks in Opera: An Encyclopedia of People and Companies, 1873-1993 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1995). Enoc Waters, Jr., Biographical Sketch of Theodore Charles Stone, October 2, 1976, in commemorative program prepared for Chicago Music Association.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Shana Powell, "STONE, THEODORE CHARLES ," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fstdh), accessed December 09, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.