High Priestess of Modern Song

Eva Gauthier pushed boundaries of both music and early twentieth-century comportment during her remarkable international musical career.

Text by Nancy Payne

March 20, 2018

Long before punk or electric powwow, Eva Gauthier, a francophone woman from Ottawa, was challenging the world’s ideas about music. From 1900 to the late 1930s, her remarkable avant-garde career included the introduction of George Gershwin to the musical world, an embrace of jazz and modern composers, performance of Javanese folk music and more.

Equally dramatic was her unconventional life — she performed in China at a time when few Westerners had travelled there, and called out racial prejudice against African-American performers in the United States. She wrote newspaper articles about her time with the King of Siam, performed in risqué costume and bore a secret love child.

Because Gauthier preferred to perform live, Library and Archives Canada has just a few recordings of her work. “Un Canadien errant” is a traditional French-Canadian folk song. The Javanese lullaby “Nina Boboh” was one of many pieces she brought back from her time in Indonesia.

Learn more about Eva Gauthier from Rachelle Chiasson-Taylor, music archivist at Library and Archives Canada, in a French episode of our podcast series Sounds Like History.

Read “A Bravura Life” by Nathan M. Greenfield in the April-May 2018 issue of Canada’s History magazine.

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