HUMPHREYS, JAMES DODSLEY, singer and music teacher; b. in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, Eng., c.1811, son of Francis Humphreys and Mary Hardwick Unwin; d. in Toronto, Ont., 23–24 Feb. 1877.
Little is known of James Dodsley Humphreys’ early life. He claimed at one time that he was “formerly of the Royal Academy of Music,” but there is no evidence for this claim. He first comes to our attention in 1835 when he sang at two “Musical Meetings” in Toronto along with the famous English songwriter, Henry Russell.
Humphreys was considered by many as Toronto’s “favourite tenor.” He made more concert appearances, over a longer period, than any other Toronto artist in the second third of the 19th century. He appears to have been able to satisfy all the demands on a singer’s repertoire made by Toronto audiences. Most often he performed songs, ballads, or, as part of a vocal ensemble, glees, but he frequently included Italian opera and oratorio music by Handel and Haydn. He sang in the first act of Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” in 1853, although in a bass part, and in “Judas Maccabeus” and the “Creation” in 1858.
Humphreys was associated with many Toronto musical societies as performer or executive. He was a conductor of the Toronto Choral Society of 1845, president of the Metropolitan Choral Society (1858–60) and conductor of the Societa Armonica (1861–62) and the St Cecilia Society (1864–65). In 1850 he was singing master pro tem at Upper Canada College; he remained on its staff until 1854 and may have taught singing at that school until his death. He was also singing master at ladies’ schools, a private teacher, and in the 1840s leader of the amateur choir of St James’ Cathedral.
In 1843 Humphreys had a number of compositions published in New York by J. F. Nunns including four waltzes and several ballads; one ballad, “When we two parted,” he dedicated to Mary Jane Hagerman, his best known pupil. When production of sheet music in Toronto began a year or two later, after Abraham Nordheimer* and his brother Samuel* had opened their music house, it was mentioned on their first publication, J. P. Knight’s “Beautiful Venice,” that it was “sung with much applause by Mr. Humphreys.” Of later date, only one composition, the song, “The junior warden’s toast,” has been discovered.
Humphreys’ last known concert appearance was in 1873, nearly 40 years after his Toronto debut; “and within a year of his death, his fine tenor had still much of its wonted power.” In 1876 a concert was held for his benefit in which leading Toronto musicians including Frederic Herbert Torrington* and Waugh Lauder* participated. He was called “so skilled a musician, so genial a gentleman, and so true a friend” and “not only a good teacher but perhaps the best performer in our midst.”
Humphreys’ widowed mother had married the Toronto widower Samuel Smith Ridout* in 1838; Humphreys himself married Ridout’s daughter, Caroline Amelia, and they had several sons and a daughter.
Anglo-American Magazine (Toronto), II (1853), 334. Belford’s Monthly Magazine (Toronto), I (1876), 711. Correspondent and Advocate (Toronto), 31 Dec. 1835. Globe (Toronto), 26 Feb. 1877. Mail (Toronto), 26 Feb. 1877, 21 Dec. 1878. Mail and Empire (Toronto), 7 Nov. 1896. Toronto Patriot, 14 Feb. 1844. Rowsell’s city of Toronto and county of York directory for 1850–1 . . . , ed. J. Armstrong (Toronto, 1850). C. C. Taylor, Toronto “called back” from 1886 to 1850 . . . (Toronto, 1886). Samuel Thompson, Reminiscences of a Canadian pioneer for the last fifty years; an autobiography (Toronto, 1884).
Chadwick, Ontarian families, I, 39–40. J. R. Robertson, Landmarks of Canada, a guide to the J. Ross Robertson Historical Collection in the Public Reference Library, Toronto, Canada (Toronto, 1917), 562. D. J. Sale, “Toronto’s pre-confederation music societies, 1845–1867,” unpublished ma thesis, University of Toronto, 1968. F. N. Walker, Sketches of old Toronto (Toronto, 1965).