What do Nellie McClung, Kitty Cheatham, Rose Fyleman, and Gilbert and Sullivan have in common? The answer is Winona Lightcap, soprano and teacher, and first recipient of a WMC music scholarship.
Winona Lightcap was making a name for herself as a singer in Winnipeg even before she received her scholarship in 1915. She is specifically mentioned in Nellie McClung’s autobiography, The Stream Runs Fast: My Own Story. Winona, then just 22 years, had sung three solos as part of Nellie’s first reading of her first book, Sowing Seeds in Danny, at the Grace Church auditorium.
During World War I, the WMC expanded programming to include concerts for young children as a way of helping families to cope with the dire news coming from overseas. Lightcap used her WMC scholarship to study for three months in New York with internationally famed diseuse, Kitty Cheatham, who was highly regarded as a performer and composer of children’s songs. When Lightcap returned from New York in 1916, she gave three WMC concerts under the title Music Inspired by Childhood, which included many of Cheatham’s original songs. Concerts for children became a popular addition to WMC programs, particularly at Christmas. Lightcap returned to New York later that year, this time to study with American operatic bass, Herbert Witherspoon. In the following decades, she became a prominent voice teacher in Winnipeg, setting up the Winona Lightcap Studio Club. Among her pupils was J. Kerr Wilson, a well-known Winnipeg baritone and choir director, and grandfather of another WMC scholarship winner, Kerry-Lynn Wilson (1986). In a 1929 WMC concert Winona performed with Rose Fyleman, the English poet and writer admired for her children’s songs and poetry that included There are Faeries at the Bottom of our Garden. Lightcap was a member of the Manitoba Music Teachers Association and served in various capacities in the Winnipeg music community, including as examiner of vocal students at the University of Manitoba. She became musical director of the University Glee Club in the 1930s where she directed several highly successful Gilbert and Sullivan productions. After her death in 1945, the Winona Lightcap Memorial Scholarship was established and presented to the University by her many friends and pupils. It is still awarded today. Eva Clare, then Director of the University School of Music wrote, “The Musicians of Winnipeg will miss Winona sorely, but they will treasure memories of her vivid, sincere personality and her high artistic ideals.” The WMC chose its first scholarship winner well. Mary Lynn Duckworth, WMC Chair of Archives December 2021