"Elizabeth Garrett: Songbird of the Southwest.” Elizabeth Garrett (1885-1947) was a remarkable figure in New Mexico’s musical history, an accomplished singer, pianist, and composer who is most remembered for writing the official state song, “O, Fair New Mexico.” Born four years after her father, Sheriff Pat Garrett, famously killed Billy the Kid, she grew up as a ranch girl in southeastern New Mexico and spent much of her life based in that region, most prominently in Roswell. We will look at her remarkable career, in which she triumphed over physical disability, traveled widely, hobnobbed with notables of her era, lent her talents to the Red Cross during two world wars, and earned distinction as a venerated figure in New Mexico’s cultural landscape. Several years ago, James Keller unearthed and acquired the only known recording of Elizabeth Garrett, which she made in 1924. Her performance of “O, Fair New Mexico” on that 78-rpm record was unveiled at the opening of “The Land That Enchants Me So” and is included in the exhibition. As a part of this lecture, Keller will offer the first modern hearing of the “B-side” of that record, on which Garrett performs another of her songs, “Señorita,” accompanied by a chamber ensemble.
James Keller enjoys a multifaceted career as a writer, lecturer, and curator. He is most widely recognized for his writing about classical music and particularly for his work as the Program Annotator for two of our nation’s most esteemed symphony orchestras—the New York Philharmonic, where he occupies an endowed chair and is in his 25th season, and the San Francisco Symphony, where he is now beginning his 20th year. He is also a noted authority on chamber music. He was awarded the prestigious ASCAP–Deems Taylor Award for his writing in Chamber Music magazine, and in 2010 Oxford University Press published his book Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide, which has become the “go-to” reference on the essential chamber music repertoire.
Here in Santa Fe, he served as staff writer at Pasatiempo from 2010 until earlier this year, contributing criticism and features about opera, concert music, recordings, visual arts, theatre, history, and literature. His articles have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including The New Yorker, where he was as a staff writer-editor from 1990 to 2000.
As a musicologist, he has developed an expertise in American popular music of earlier eras and has assembled a vast collection of rare sheet music and musical memorabilia relating to American places, people, and historic events. He has drawn on this to curate museum exhibitions including Singing the Golden State, which viewed the history of California through the prism of old-time popular songs. It was mounted in 2012 at the Society of California Pioneers in San Francisco before embarking on a statewide tour of five further museums. Here at the New Mexico History Museum, he co-curated the current show The Land That Enchants Me So with Meredith Davidson, formerly of the museum’s staff. It opened in March 2018 and runs through this September, offering visitors an unusual perspective on our state’s history through its multimedia presentation of New Mexico-related sheet music and archival recordings from his personal collection.