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Mrs. Leda C. Steele, one of the most notable figures in the musical circles of Oklahoma and the southwest and enjoying as well an international reputation in connection with her art, makes her home in Muskogee, where she has resided since 1900. She was born in St. Paul, Kansas, a daughter of Edson H. and Artimissia (Sutherland) Crawford, the former a native of Elgin, Illinois, while the latter was born in the vicinity of Elgin. The father was a veteran of the Civil war.
Having pursued her education in the public schools of St. Paul, Kansas, and in the high school at Erie, Kansas, Mrs. Steele afterward took up the study of music in the New England Conservatory of Music at Boston, Massachusetts, where she was under the instruction of such eminent teachers as Busoni, Bertha Fiering Tapper, Carl Stasny, a favorite pupil of Liszt, William L. Whitney, Louis C. Elson and Samuel W. Cole. In later years her teachers were Charles W. Clark and D. A. Clippinger of Chicago and William S. Brady of New York.
For years Mrs. Steele has appeared with great success on the concert stage and has sung with equal success before the National Federation of Musical Clubs in its conventions at Memphis, Tennessee, and at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has appeared in concert work with Charles Wakefield Cadman, the eminent composer, and at the same time she has done much to advance musical taste and talent in Muskogee and the southwest. She became one of the charter members of the New Century Club at Muskogee and is also a member of the Ladies’ Saturday Music Club, the Opera Study Club, the Music Study Club and the MacDowell Club. She has brought to the city many concerts of the highest order. Among the musical entertainments that Muskogee has enjoyed as the result of her efforts have been those given by the Victor Herbert Orchestra, by Mrs. Edward MacDowell, by the San Carlo Opera Company, by John McCormack, Anna Case, Zanelli, Wagner and La Forge and Royal Dadmun. The music lovers of this section of the country greatly benefited by her efforts in inducing some of the finest artists of the country to appear in this city.
Since 1900 Mrs. Steele has taught music, both voice and piano, in Muskogee and has been a member of the faculty of the Henry Kendall College, of the Bacone Indian University and of the Oklahoma State School for the Blind. She served as chairman of the Muskogee community service music committee and as a member of the board of the organization during the first year of its existence. She belongs to several national musical organizations, including the Music Teachers National Association, the National Music Supervisors Conference, the Musical Alliance of the United States, Incorporated, the National Opera Club, Incorporated, of New York City, the music department of the Art Service League of Chicago and is a charter member of the Musicians Club of New York city. She served for seventeen years on the board of the National Federation of Musical Clubs and in various offices in the old Indian Territory Federation of Musical Clubs. She also served as one of the five members of the international committee of the National Community Music for the National Alliance d’Education Sociale et Civique during the World war and she is now a member of the national advisory board for the Musical Alliance of the United States, Incorporated, with headquarters in New York city. She has been correspondent and representative of Musical America., the leading musical magazine of the United States and has written for many other musical papers. She has been a frequent contributor to the Western Musical Herald, the Musical Monitor, the Musical Observer, the Musicians, the Etude, the Music News, the Musical Courier, Musical America, the Boston Herald and Muskogee Times Democrat, and her articles have elicited most favorable comment from musicians and musical critics throughout the country. Among her writings which have appeared recently in New York musical journals are “Public School Music” and “How it is done in my home town,” together with an article on Charles Wakefield Cadman, genius and artist, which recently appeared in the Musical Observer.
Mrs. Steele is not unknown to the world as a composer. She has published several sacred songs of her own composition of real merit and is also the composer of “Fair Oklahoma”, which was rendered by the famous Million Dollar Band conducted by Harold Bachmann at the Oklahoma Free State Fair, winning the greatest applause on that occasion. Mrs. Steele is prominently known as a vocalist, accompanist and choir and choral director and for six years was teacher of music and director of the vested-choir in St. John’s Episcopal Church at Parsons, Kansas. Not only has her ability as a representative of musical art won her fame but her service has been continuously sought in official connection with the musical organizations of which she is a representative. A side from her long service as a director of the National Federation of Musical Clubs she was state director of the organization, being the first in Oklahoma to hold this office. She was also the Vice President of the southern section, which at that time comprised eighteen states. She has served as corresponding secretary, as auditor, librarian and chairman of one of the most important educational committees and during the war she served as one of five members of the community music committee on the international organization. She has also been active on a new committee for the encouragement of community music which she was instrumental in organizing and which committee has as its members several of the most prominent musical personages in the United States, together with some of the most influential people of her own state. The number includes Otto H. Kahn, the noted financier and music patron and head of the Metropolitan Grand Opera Company of New York city, also Charles D. Isaacson, one of the country’s leading critics and journalists, David Bispham, America’s great artist and teacher (now deceased), Charles W. Clark of Chicago, noted baritone and teacher, Governor J. B. A. Robertson of Oklahoma, Chief Justice Thomas H. Owen of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, H. D. Tovey and others.
On the 11th of November, 1919, Mrs. Steele personally interested the community in the celebration of armistice day with music and to that end planned and carried out with the aid of the Muskogee Times Democrat a wonderful series of free concerts by local talent and as the press afterward said, “she put it over in big league style.” It was a most successful and memorable occasion. As chairman of the community service music committee Mrs. Steele in 1921 inaugurated the first music memory contest ever held in Muskogee. Mrs. Steele has such a large circle of friends among the world’s greatest musicians and artists that she is said to possess today one of the largest and most wonderful collections of autograph pictures of the world’s greatest artists to be found in any private collection in the United States.
Her activities along musical lines and what she has accomplished would seem to exclude active participation in other artistic and civic fields. Notwithstanding this, however, Mrs. Steele has held various offices in the Oklahoma State Federation of Women’s Clubs, was an active worker on the board that established the first city hospital of Muskogee and was one of the pioneers in establishing the public library and in securing the Carnegie Library. In June, 1921, she was honored by being made an honorary charter member of the International Rotary Club, the only one in the world. This courtesy was shown her in appreciation and acknowledgement of her great service both local and national to the cause of good music. In her work she has always endeavored to serve the cause of American artists, continuously attempting to bring the best class of American music to public attention and recognition.
More than all this Mrs. Steele is a home woman. On the 14th of August, 1895, she became the wife of Claude Luman Steele in Parsons, Kansas, and two sons were there born to them: John Russell and Myron Whitney, who are graduates of the Central high school of Muskogee. Both are veterans of the World war, Russell having served in the aviation department and Myron with the ordnance department. The cause of mother love as well as of marked patriotism was the reason of her deep interest in war work. One of her admiring friends has written concerning Mrs. Steele as follows: “Frank Croxton, well known Victor artist and highest salaried bass choir singer in America, when appearing here in recital last fall said: I congratulate Muskogee on having such a capable woman and musician as Mrs. Claude L. Steele.