Lois (Catherine) Marshall was one of Canada's best-known and best-loved singers. She was celebrated by the New York Times as " a singer who could make Frère Jacques sound like a cry from the heart". Musical America marveled at "her power to project with great immediacy and conviction the words and music she is singing; singing seems as natural to her as speech to a great actor."
Lois Marshall didn't so much sing as radiate a song. Her voice was coveted by the greatest conductors, adored by audiences the world over and worshipped in Russia, and yet she remained very much a Canadian, only really at home in Toronto, where she was born into a musical family. She was stricken with polio at the age of two and spent much of the next ten years enduring operations on her crippled legs at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. It was there that she discovered her own voice, as she was called upon time and again to entertain patients, staff and visitors.
Her mother, sisters and brother all sang well and Lois Marshall remembered being taken as child to hear concerts of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and recitals by Heifetz and Horowitz. At the age of 12, she began musical studies with Weldon Kilburn, a fine pianist and organist who was also one of the country's leading vocal coaches. The relationship would endure for 35 years, first as teacher and accompanist and ultimately in their marriage in 1968. Marshall also studied Lieder singing with the Viennese-born soprano, Emmy Heim. "She was one of the jewels of my early life," Marshall recalled. "She brought the very essence of the music into your own spirit and then you took it on."
Among the first to recognize Marshall's musicality was Sir Ernest MacMillan, who engaged her as soprano soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for Bach's St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in 1947. It was her first professional engagement. In 1950 Marshall won the Eaton Scholarship as the top graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. That same year she became a household name across Canada through her first-place win in the CBC competition, Singing Stars of Tomorrow. In 1952 she won the prestigious Naumburg award, which entitled her to a New York debut at Town Hall. The recital was a smash hit and led to recognition by no less than Arturo Toscanini, who invited Miss Marshall to sing and record L.v. Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.
Her international career blossomed and she performed in solo recitals and orchestral appearances throughout North America, Britain, Europe, Australia and Russia, where audiences especially adored her. Her crippled legs severely limited any prospect of an operatic career, but her performances of operatic roles in concert and for the microphone reveal a compelling dramatic presence. Her recording with Sir Thomas Beecham of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio remains definitive. In 1959 and 1960 the Boston Opera under Sarah Caldwell staged successful productions of La Bohème and Tosca designed specially for Miss Marshall.
In the mid-1970’s, Lois Marshall began to explore the mezzo-soprano repertoire. This happily led to performances of Lieder cycles in their original keys. Most notable were performances of Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin, with pianist Greta Kraus, Die Winterreise, with Anton Kuerti and the present Schumann recital.
In 1986 Lois Marshall joined the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music and continued to teach there until her death at age 73 of complications following surgery. At her memorial tribute she was fondly remembered by many whose lives she had touched with her song:
Elly Ameling, soprano: "When I was a voice student, I had the good fortune of attending a concert by Lois Marshall at the Hague, Holland, my native country. Miss Marshall blessed my ears and mind with her beautiful voice and deeply emotional performance. The indelible impression she made on my young, still searching soul, stayed with me for all my life. For this gift to me, I owe Lois Marshall eternal gratitude."
Maureen Forrester, contralto: "I treasure first of all her glorious voice which brought me to tears many, many times; and how often she broke me up with her infectious laugh and a healthy smack on the back. She proved that she was not frail. Lois had a powerful voice and determination for all she took on. She will be sadly missed but will remain in our hearts and memories forever."
Elmer Iseler, conductor: "Her serenity and spiritual depth in performance always touched me deeply. I can't imagine the singing world without Lois Marshall."