Kathleen Joyce (Freeman Watson)

 1922 - 1993

Kathleen Joyce, noted contralto, was highly praised for her singing by critics in the United States and in Europe. From the beginning of her career in the 1940s and throughout the rest of her life, her voice was described as rich, possessing an even, beautiful tone through all of its range, without the mid-range break that plagues many contraltos. Her lowest notes were particularly praised for their somber dark hues.

Kathleen was born in Newport, Gwent, South Wales, in 1922, one of three children and the only daughter of Joshua George, a native of Wales, and Winnifred M. Essery Freeman Joyce. She started piano lessons with her aunt, Rose Essery, later Mrs. E. G. Rodgers of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Following graduation from Stanborough Park School, she worked briefly in a health food factory, before deciding to pursue a career in music as a pianist. At about this time, she married Edward James Watson, an amateur musician she had met in a singing group in the Stanborough Park Seventh-day Adventist Church, on August 12, 1943. They would have a son, Malcolm J., ten years later.

Kathleen practiced diligently, became a Gold Medalist, and then served as an accompanist for Arthur Jay at the Watford School of Music and later at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He urged her to begin studying voice under him and in the summer of 1947, at age 24, she was featured in the first of what would be many broadcasts on the Brirtish Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), using the professional name of Kathleen Joyce.

She made her debut in London at the Royal Albert Hall in March 1951, as a soloist in J. S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the Bach Choir, under the direction of Reginald Jacques, a Bach specialist. Critics were unanimous in their praise of her singing, and in numerous subsequent recitals and performances as a soloist in oratorios and appearances in other famous venues, including Wigmore Hall, she consistently received rave reviews.

Joyce appeared with leading orchestras and choral societies in Great Britain and other countries in Europe under the direction of famous conductors of that era, including Malcolm Sargent, Adrian Boult, Josef Krips, John Barbirolli, and others. Kathleen Ferrier, noted singer of that time who admired Joyce's interpretation of lieder, brought her to the attention of Barbirolli, who then featured her with his orchestra on several occasions.

Although mostly a recitalist and a soloist in oratorio productions, Joyce also enjoyed success in operatic style singing, performing in the Verdi Requiem on one occasion and featuring operatic solos in her recitals.

She made the first of several trips to the U.S. in April 1955. She began with a concert at Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University, and then continued with concerts in the Sligo church in Takoma Park, Maryland, an Adventist church in Atlanta, Georgia, and SDA churches and colleges on the west coast. Her program, which included solos from oratorios, spirituals, and other sacred solos, created a sensation. By the time she performed at Sligo, it recorded its biggest crowd ever, with some left standing outside.

In November of that same year, Joyce returned to the U.S. for another tour, performing mostly in New York and Washington, D.C., over a period of twenty days. In addition to singing in numerous Adventist venues, she also gave a recital at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and sang the alto solos in a presentation of the Messiah at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The performance, given by four community choirs and the National Symphony Orchestra, was under the direction of Howard Mitchell. That performance, and later, one of the St. Matthew Passion, in another trip to the U.S. led to the following observations by two noted critics of the time:

An excellent singer from Great Britain sang last night in Constitution Hall. Kathleen Joyce, a Welsh contralto, filled the hall with some of the noblest sound it has heard. Her voice is a true contralto, evenly handled from its deepest notes to a top of round beauty. Clearly Miss Joyce has been solidly schooled in the finest traditions of singing. There is not a note that comes from her that is not precisely where she wants it, and that has not been properly prepared.

Paul Hume, the Washington Post

Miss Joyce has a remarkably fine voice. The range is wide, the tone full and resonant, the diction superb, the breath control beyond criticism. I sat for part of the programme in the last row of orchestral seats and every word came through. She sings in excellent taste.

Wendell Margrav, The Evening Star

Joyce's recording debut occurred in 1952 on the Parlophone label. A ten-inch record, it included an aria from the Elijah and Gounod's There Is a Green Hill Far Away. Within a year, two more records were released on that label and received excellent reviews in The Gramophone magazine. Numerous recordings were released in subsequent years under different labels, including several on Chapel Records.

Joyce gave unsparingly of her time and talent for church-related events in Great Britain and elsewhere. She sang in countless evangelistic crusades and church services, for benefit concerts, as a regular soloist on the British version of the Voice of Prophecy radio broadcast and as a frequent soloist with the Newbold College choirs in tours and programs. She was a featured soloist at the 1962 and 1966 SDA General Conference Sessions held respectively in San Francisco, California, and Detroit, Michigan.

Listeners were invariably touched with not only the beauty of her voice, but the deeply felt emotion with which she sang. An Oslo, Norway, music critic described her voice as a "noble alto, pure and cultured, and above all expressive and filled with character." Another unknown writer observed that "her voice radiates a depth of experience which speaks a living message, as it were, from soul to soul."

In a 1975 General Conference session, she was selected, along with Del Delker and Virginia Gene Rittenhouse, as one of three women to be honored for their contributions in music to the church.

A few months after Kathleen and Edward celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary in 1983, he died on November 6.  Three years later she had a major heart attack, but lived long enough to see her son, Malcolm, marry and become an ordained minister.  Kathleen died on June 20, 1993. She was survived by her son; his wife, Naomi; and her two grandsons, James and Benjamin.

 ds 2018

Sources: British Advent Messenger:24 September 1943 (marriage); 26 September 1949, 3 (Adventist Singer to broadcast again [BBC]); 25 January 1952, 8,6; 31 October 1952, 7; 11 December 1953, 2; 3 February 1956, 6; 2 August 1962; 27 September 1963, 15 (mother's obituary); 25 July 1975, 7 (Father's obituary); 30 December 1983 (husband's obituary); 8 October 1993 (her obituary) and numerous other rferences in this magazine. Other sources: Ben and Nettie Glanzer, "Music in Old London," The Youth's Instructor, 7 July 1953, 11, 12, 19; Joan Reinthaler, "Fulfilled in Every Respect," The Washington Post, 3 November 1969 and Ylda Novik, "Kathleen Joyce Displays Excellence at Gallery," Washington Evening Star, 3 November 1969 (concert reviews); Extended record liner biography, Chapel Records Golden Voice Series, ST 068; Review and Herald, 7-14 August 1975, 26;Obituary, Messenger, 8 October 1993, 15.