O'BRIEN, BESSIE - Several years ago, in St. Agnes' Catholic Church, at Springfield, was a little girl who always took her place in the choir loft on the side of the soprano singers. She was so small that the choir paid very little attention to her, in spite of the fact that her sister, Miss Mary O'Brien was organist. But she sang for the great joy and happiness of it; the Latin words of the Mass appealed to her, and that she was allowed to sing them at all in the big choir, was the most wonderful part to her. Every Sunday and on feast days she was in her place, and after awhile the other singers began to notice the clearness and beauty of her tones. One eventful day a great master-teacher was present, who immediately began to ask questions. He went to her home and told her mother and brothers of his discovery of the little girl. She was encouraged at once, and began to study with him; success crowned her efforts, and soon she gave a recital of her own, being then only fifteen years of age.
The musicians of Springfield began to realize that they had a singer of rare ability in their midst, and she grew famous, not only in her own city, but throughout the central part of the State, where she sang in both concerts and churches. But the city of Springfield was her home, there were the friends who had first praised her. Would her dreams come true - could she win applause for her voice alone? Among those who did not know her, high praise had been meted out to her when she sang Verdi's "Aller che forte Correne," at the concert which the people of Springfield gave to Governor Altgeld.
One Sunday morning at St. Jarlath's Church in Chicago, she sang Verdi's "Attilla," arranged as an "O Salutaris," and in this she covered a little less than three octaves, from lower "E" to high "D". The strength of her voice and its exceeding fine quality made itself felt in the quiet church so that even the altar boys stole glances at the choir loft. The next day the Chicago papers announced, in terms of highest praise, the discovery of the wonderful singer at St. Jarlath's, one noted musical critic declaring that she "sang like an angel". So her dreams began to come true, and soon she left for Paris (accompanied by her sister) to study under the famous Madame Eames-Storey, then in that city. She took up her studies with Madam F. DePiciette, who was so pleased with her that after three months' work she was accorded the distinction of singing at St. Joseph's Church. It was here that she really made her debut during New Year week. Afterwards she studied with Me. Marchesi, who fitted her for grand opera. In Paris she frequently met and sang for many famous singers, including Melba. After three years of hard work she returned to America and to Chicago, where she was received with the greatest praise, and given the name of "The Modern Patti." It is told that on the morning of her arrival in Springfield she went direct to her seat in the choir loft of St. Agnes' Church, as though she had never been abroad, and sang the Mass with the others. She has since then constantly received the highest praise from musical critics, the press, and the public of Illinois and other States.
Miss O'Brien and her sister now conduct a studio in the Odd Fellows Building in Springfield, besides which Miss Bessie does concert work throughout the State. With William Armstrong, who lectured on "Music and Musicians," she made a tour doing solo work, and she also served several years as soprano soloist at the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. She is a sister of Frank O'Brien, a grain broker, a biography of whom appears on another page in this work.