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James Schwabacher

James Schwabacher Collection

The James Schwabacher Collection consists of sound recordings, correspondence, scores, scrapbooks, photographs, programs, teaching material and other papers from philanthropist and lyric tenor James Schwabacher (1920-2006). A tireless champion of vocal music, Schwabacher was extremely active in the San Francisco Bay area, not only as a performer, but as a teacher, vocal coach, and radio and television host. Perhaps most significantly, Schwabacher founded the Merola Opera Program, an annual workshop for aspiring singers, in 1957, San Francisco Performances in 1980, and the Schwabacher Debut Recital Series in 1983. The Schwabacher name belongs to one of San Francisco's more prestigious families: Schwabacher-Frey was a major West Coast printer and stationer, and Schwabacher and Company was a successful investment banking firm. His grandmother Carrie, who was a Fleishhacker before marriage, was a composer and pianist, and James grew up surrounded by music. Scrapbooks reveal regular attendance at San Francisco Opera performances, long before he made it to the SF Opera stage himself.
After graduating from Cal in 1941, Schwabacher taught briefly at Stanford, where he conducted the Glee Club and sang in the West Coast premiere of Britten's Peter Grimes and alongside Dorothy Warenskjold in her debut in Der Freischütz. In 1948 Schwabacher joined the San Francisco Opera, playing fourteen roles over four seasons. Schwabacher would soon move away from opera, however, and the majority of his years performing were in recitals and oratorios. His singing career is most notable for a twenty-five year run as the Evangelist in The Passions of St. John and Matthew in the Carmel Bach Festival. The collection contains many recordings from these performances, but it also covers the period where Schwabacher was teaching, mentoring and administrating (he was president of the San Francisco Symphony Foundation and a member of their Board of Governors since 1959, and he was also on the board of the San Francisco Opera Foundation).  

This collection has been processed with generous financial support from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.


Jerry McBride
Head Librarian, Music Library
Head Librarian, Archive of Recorded Sound
(650) 725-1146

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