William and Luella Gracey

April 9th, 2021

By Becky Chapin, Archivist

1884 Concert Flyer

Scheduled to perform in the same concert, Luella and William were headliners for the YMCA concert in Clifton Springs on July 8, 1884.

Probably better known for his work at the Geneva Daily Times, William Adolphe Gracey did much more in Geneva than publish newspapers. And not to be forgotten is his wife, Luella Warfield Gracey. Luella and William must have met many years before they were married in 1889. Both from Rochester and belonging to the same church, they often performed at the same concerts as early as 1884; Luella was an accomplished organist and William sang bass, played the cornet, and would later conduct various choirs.

Scrapbooks created by William reveal how in demand their talents were, as from the years 1883 to 1894 are programs and articles from many churches, associations, and choirs in Rochester that list at least William as a performer if not Luella too. William was also a talented composer, writing a number of Christian inspired pieces and later a song called “Geneva” in honor of the city the Graceys had made their home.

Geneva Sheet Music

Sheet music: Gracey’s piece titled “Geneva” was published in 1920. “Geneva! Geneva! Thy praises we ever will sing..” is the first line. The Gracey collection also houses the original print block.

While attending the University of Rochester, William originally wanted to be a journalist, but according to a report in the Rochester D&C a problem with his eyes meant he was forced to relinquish the job. Instead he joined the nursery business with the Brown Brothers in the 1880s, working in their Canadian sales department. In 1892, he was able to get back into journalism at the D&C in the editorial rooms.

In the 1890s, William’s ‘college days’ scrapbook show the Graceys performing at the Presbyterian Churches in Geneva (First and North) and this is may be when they found Geneva. By 1898, William had moved to the Geneva Daily Times and the D&C were congratulating him on his work.

William and Luella would give concerts in their own home to friends which were well attended and highly praised in the papers. They continued to give concerts in the surrounding areas as well, often in Clifton Springs. William also became involved in the Geneva Choral Society, eventually leading the group for a number of years.

Group of people on a stage Geneva Choral Society May Festival

Geneva Choral Society at their popular annual May Festival in 1900.

The Gracey collection contains a few scrapbooks solely dedicated to the Choral Society (founded in 1894) and reveals the troubles brought about by the First World War. The group was incredibly popular before the war, but when it had to halt concerts in 1918, its revitalization in 1921 became a flop in 1923. The Geneva community was asked for support, but they did not provide enough and the Choral Society was finished.

It wouldn’t be until 1904 that William purchased stock in the Geneva Daily Times, but the family had made roots in Geneva. Raising their four children, Lawrence, Stuart, Lewis, and Katherine, they remained in Geneva until their deaths in 1944 (William) and 1941 (Luella). Lawrence and Lewis would continue on as officers at the Geneva Times, leaving William’s partner Samuel B. Williams in charge. Lawrence would continue on at the paper, but Lewis would become an optometrist. Katherine married and moved to Port Washington, Long Island where her husband was a high school principal.

Group of people standing

Taken at the Gracey’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1939. Left to right: Lewis, Luella, Lawrence (behind), William, Katherine, and Stuart.

Their musical talents must have passed on to at least one of their children as Stuart Gracey became well known in his own right. Gracey left high school at the end of his sophomore year to work on a farm to ‘do his bit’ during the First World War, returning to school after winning a scholarship to the Ithaca Conservatory of Music. At that time he was pursuing violin studies, but was noticed for his ‘unusual’ singing voice so he was also offered a scholarship in voice and dramatics. He studied at the Eastman School of Music and participated in numerous performances while there. In 1925 he traveled to Europe to study and sing in Italy, spending eight months in Milano, before making his operatic debut in Naples (he was also a writer for newspapers as the musical reviewer for the New York Herald in Paris). Upon his return to America, Stuart was engaged by the Philadelphia Grand Opera company for a few years before marrying Ruth Jaynes in 1930, who at the time was in charge of the physical education department of the Geneva schools.

While living in Geneva, Stuart taught and directed a number of light and grand operas not only in Geneva but in the surrounding areas; teaching and directing a choir in Seneca Falls as well. He had engaged a friend of the family, Madame Louise Homer, for “Aida” at the Smith Opera House who then convinced Stuart to return to New York to resume studying and expanding his field. In 1936 he began his operatic radio career with WOR, eventually making his debut on stage as a baritone soloist in 1942. The family would later settle in Port Jefferson where Stuart taught music and bought out and published the Port Jefferson Record newspaper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *