Ruby Mercer

Ruby (m Por) Mercer. Writer, broadcaster, soprano, b Athens, Ohio, 26 Jul 1906, d Toronto 26 Jan 1999; BA (Ohio) 1927, B MUS (Cincinnati) 1930, honorary D MUS (Ohio) 1978, honorary LLD (U of T) 1995.

Mercer, Ruby

Ruby (m Por) Mercer. Writer, broadcaster, soprano, b Athens, Ohio, 26 Jul 1906, d Toronto 26 Jan 1999; BA (Ohio) 1927, B MUS (Cincinnati) 1930, honorary D MUS (Ohio) 1978, honorary LLD (U of T) 1995. After a stint teaching school in Hawaii, she became a pupil of Ruth Townsend at the Cincinnati Conservatory and, on scholarship, of Marcella Sembrich and Florence Page Kimball at the Juilliard School. She won the Naumburg Award in 1935 and, having been selected by Edward Johnson, made her New York debut with the Metropolitan Opera as Nedda in I Pagliacci in 1936. Also with the Met, she sang Marguerite in Faust in 1937. She was under contract to MGM in 1938, and later appeared in Radio City Music Hall, three Broadway productions, and on radio and TV. She toured North America in opera, operetta, and musical comedy for several years before becoming the producer and host of WNYC's 'Mr. and Mrs. Opera' (1949-58) and of the MBS's 'The Ruby Mercer Show' (1954-8). She first sang in Canada as Sophie in a production of Werther for the short-lived revival of Albert Clerk-Jeannotte'sMontreal Opera Company (31 Oct 1933); then in a 1937 performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Plateau Hall, Montreal, with the CSM Orchestra and the Disciples de Massenet under Paul Stassevitch. She returned in 1944 and 1945 to sing in TUTS productions in Vancouver.

In 1958 she married Hungarian-Canadian businessman Geza Por (d 1965) and moved to Toronto, where she founded the periodical Opera Canada which she edited 1960-90. In 1968, with Lloyd Bradshaw, she founded the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus and served as its first president. She served 1962-79 as host of CBC radio's weekly 'Opera Time' and 1979-84 of the revised and expanded version, 'Opera in Stereo.'

Mercer was the author of The Tenor of His Time (Toronto 1976), a biography of Edward Johnson, and The Quilicos - Louis, Gino and Lina (Oakville, Ont, 1990). She contributed articles to EMC, Musical America, and Opera News. After retirement in 1990, she continued to contribute columns and reviews to Opera Canada and to serve on its board and editorial committee. Mercer was awarded the Canadian Music Council medal in 1983, and a Toronto Arts lifetime achievement award in 1988. She received honours from the State of Ohio, and from Ohio University and Cincinnati College-Conservatory, where she provided voice scholarships; she also provided a scholarship at the Banff Centre, and endowed an award for University of Toronto's Opera Division. She was invested as a member of the Order of Canada in 1995. In 1997 she donated her papers to the National Library of Canada.

Mercer has been recognized as a champion of opera in Canada and as pivotal in raising the profile of Canadian artists at home and abroad. Writing in Opera Canada about her contribution to that magazine and the CCOC, Louis Quilico said, "Her soul and spirit went into these organizations and made operatic life in Canada vibrant and meaningful."


The Tenor of his time: Edward Johnson of the Met (Toronto 1976)

The Quilicos - Louis, Gino and Lina: an operatic family (Oakville, 1990)

Les Quilicos. Hervé Juste, trad. (Montréal, 1992)

Numerous articles, columns and reviews in Opera Canada

Further Reading

  • Sirois, Maryse. 'Ruby Mercer et les 20 ans d'Opera Canada,' Aria, vol 3, Spring 1980

    Gartner, Zsuzsi. 'Mercer, a tireless champion of opera scene in Canada,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 6 Aug. 1985

    Littler, William. 'What makes Ruby run?' OpCan, Spring 1990

    "Remembering Ruby Mercer," Opera Canada, Spring 1999