265 : Dorothy Callender – piano recitalist of the 1920s and 1930s

Dorothy Callender was born in the Bahamas around 1905. Her father was Walter Ernest Savory Callender of British Guiana who established his law firm in the Bahamas in 1901. His wife seems to have been Canadian; certainly young Dorothy spent time in Toronto with her grandmother Mrs A. Pippette. She studied music with her mother and her grand-mother. They all moved to London by 1920, settling at 56 King Edward Gardens in Acton Hill. Dorothy went to Trinity College of Music in central London where she was awarded a Bambridge Scholarship and the Grosvenor Gooch prize by 1922. Her brother Wren Ernest Alexander Callender studied law – and, it seems, worked as a radio announcer. Ernest Callender joined his father’s law practice in 1936.

Dorothy Callender’s musical career was very much that of a suburban middle class woman, initially performing at the reputable Steinway Hall in central London in late 1920. The Globe of 8 December 1920 noted she was “a very youthful pianist of great promise”. Local halls heard her performances, with the West Middlesex Gazette of 8 October 1921 stating “she gave unqualified enjoyment, and was insistently recalled”. She had played Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 15 and a polonaise by Chopin. A recital at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street in central London included works by Chopin, Liszt, Greig “and others” according to the Middlesex County Times of 6 May 1922. The Middlesex County Times of 5 August 1922 quoted from the London Daily Telegraph on her two Steinway Hall recitals and gave an outline biography.

Living in Acton and in contact with John Barbour-James who had served in the Gold Coast [Ghana] post office after relocating from British Guiana [Guyana] who had retired to that west London suburb, Callender was active in local groups such as the Sisterhood which organised concerts at the central hall in Southall (West Middlesex Gazette 1 October 1921, p 4; Ealing Gazette and West Middlesex Observer, 1 October 1921, p 4). One performance for the Shaftesbury Society Cripples Mission led to the Acton Gazette (6 April 1923, p 5) referring to her as “the talented girl pianist”. The West Middlesex Gazette referred to her as “the remarkable West Indian pianist” and “the young West Indian pianist” (18 November 1922, p 1; 27 October 1923, p 12) and of her playing at a Sisterhood concert in Southall “the young West Indian pianist is one of the most promising students at Trinity College” (3 November 1923, p 13).

Due to Barbour-James, the visiting ruler of Swaziland came to Acton in February 1923. Several African residents were mentioned in reports in the Middlesex County Times and in the Acton Gazette. Dorothy Callender participated in a concert, as did Jamaican singer Marie Lawrence. Months later the national entertainment weekly the Era reviewed her performance with violinist Alfred Gibbs at the Steinway Hall – “what is missing at present is a keen sense of atmosphere” (26 November 1924, p 10).

She worked outside London too: a concert by Trinity College of Music personnel was given at the Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds on 14 October 1924, when the Suffolk and Essex Free Press (16 October 1924, p 8) said her playing was excellent. The development of radio gave her more opportunities, and the listings of scheduled programmes were to have her name into the 1930s. She was accompanying cellist Miriam Anglin in June 1928, and a bass and a soprano in March 1929. She performed with an augmented municipal orchestra at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth, broadcasting in March 1928. She became a member of staff at Trinity College of Music in 1934, and was again on the radio, with singer Irene Baker in February 1939. Dorothy Callender visited the Caribbean in the late 1930s, being reported in the North Devon Journal of 3 November 1938 (p 2) as having given recitals there.

Her father died in 1949, and her brother was running the law practice in the Bahamas. More generations of legal Callenders emerged and are active to this day. What happened to the very musical Dorothy Callender is not known at this time of writing (April 2021). Guidance will be most welcome.