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Braham, John

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John Braham, one of the greatest singers of the English musical stage, was born in Goodman’s Fields, London, on 20 March 1777, the son of a German Jew, John Abraham, and his wife Esther (née) Lyon. John was the youngest of John Abraham’s ten children who had musical careers in London (see their notices in the BDA). John Braham grew to love music in the Great Synagogue in Duke’s Place, where he was educated and came under the tutelage of his uncle Michael Leoni (Meyer Lyon, d. 1797), a chorister at the synagogue and a professional singer on the London stage. John Braham made his singing debut at Covent Garden, at the age of 10, on 21 April 1787, for his uncle’s benefit. His first speaking part was Joe in “Poor Vulcan!” at the same theatre on 2 June 1788. Under the patronage of the philanthropist Abraham Goldsmid (1756?-1810), he soon established a reputation by his appearances at leading concert venues in London, Gloucester and Birmingham. In 1797, accompanied by the singer Nancy Storace, with whom he lived for some time, he went to study in Italy and France. He enjoyed great success in Venice and Vienna, and after singing throughout Germany, he returned to Covent Garden for the season of 1801-2. He soon became much adulated by the public, and was described somewhat hyperbolically by one admirer, Jane Porter, in her diary, ‘without any exception, the most glorious singer that ever appeared in the world.’ Over the next 52 years on the popular London stage he achieved great wealth, earning an average of £14,000 per annum. During his exceptional career he appeared in numerous roles in operas and other musical pieces (though he was not an accomplished actor). He owned and managed for some time the Coliseum and St James’s, ventures that were not financially successful. The vast number of songs he introduced achieved great popularity. He electrified audiences when he toured America, 1840-1842. His voice was especially suited to Handelian oratorios, but he was small of stature. Yet, according to Leigh Hunt, when he stood on the concert stage and opened his mouth, his voice ‘became a veritable trumpet of grandeur and exaltation.’ After 65 years on the stage, Braham retired in March 1852 and resided at the Grange, Brompton, until his death on 17 February 1856. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. Some years earlier, evidently, he had converted to the Anglican Church. In addition to the pictures of him in the Garrick Club, the BDA notes some 40 different portraits of him. Braham was one of the original members of the Garrick Club in 1831. (BDA)
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