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Saginaw's First Lady of Music

Known as Saginaw’s “first lady of music," Elsie Eggleston Kempton was a founder

of both the Tuesday Musicale in 1927 and the Saginaw Community Concert Association. She served as president of the Tuesday Musicale and was the long-time secretary of the concert association, numbering the greats of the music world as her friends. She was organist of the First Congregational Church for ten years and an active Red Cross member. Kempton school is named for her husband, a much loved Saginaw physician, Rockwell Kempton.

“Elsie Kempton, who died last week at Arlington, Va., was indeed Saginaw's First Lady of music.

She fostered the growth of musical organizations in Saginaw and nurtured their success for 50 years. She was a founder of the Community Concert series and Tuesday Musicale. She was a prime mover, the dominant fifth of the diatonic scale.

In an interview in 1971 she had said, "Audiences don’t just show up for performances and talented artists don't suddenly appear from dark garrets and smoky cafes. In the city's cultural world, you have to work for what you get.”

-From an editorial in The Saginaw News, May 11, 1980.

Born in Litchfield Michigan in 1891, Elsie Eggleston Kempton studied piano at Hillsdale College and organ at the University of Michigan. She married Dr. Rockwell Kempton in 1917 and in the fall of 1920, they moved to Saginaw.

In a 1973 interview with the Saginaw News, she stated:

“We were used to quite a bit of music in Ann Arbor."

“I and some of my friends decided that there should be a musical club in town. So we started the Tuesday Musicale.”

When the Tuesday Musicale was organized, it was a performing group. Entrance requirements were rigorous. Each member was required to audition before a college faculty member. In later years’ non-performing members were allowed to join. She stated: “The thing that makes me proudest, is we encourage many musicians to keep up their studies and performances.”

Above: The Tuesday Musicale’s archive, preserved in the Local History and Genealogy Collection at Hoyt Library, documents Elsie Kempton’s role in the organization.

The Rockwell home and Dr. Kempton’s office were located on the northwest corner of Hayden and South Jefferson, directly across the street from First Congregational Church. She was the organist at the Congregational Church for ten years. In the 1973 interview, she reflected on her love for the organ:

“‘The organ is really a whole orchestra under the hands of one person,’ She said. ‘It’s a thrilling instrument to play. There are such resources right under your hands, winds, strings and brass divided among the various keyboards.'”

In 1931, she became a founding board member of the Saginaw Community Concerts. Through her work with the organization, she was instrumental in bringing world-renowned artists to Saginaw.

She was the author, with her sister, of two books on their family’s genealogy.

Her commitment to the arts, went beyond performing and leadership, it was not unusual to see a concert announcement noting that tickets may be purchased at the Kempton Home.

We will conclude – and we could write much more – with another quote from the 1973 interview:

“I feel sorry for people who don’t know what to do with themselves.”

Above: Manufactured by Steinway and Sons, this 1907 grand piano originally belonged to Miss Winifred Holland who lived at 309 S. Jefferson Avenue, about 1 block from the Castle Museum. After her death, it was purchased by the Tuesday Musicale for the enjoyment of the Saginaw community. Since 1966, it has been at the Historical Society of Saginaw County’s Museum.

The Recipe: Mrs. Elsie Eggleston Kempton's Cake

1 cup powdered sugar

½ cup sweet butter

2 squares chocolate

½ cup sugar

¼ cup milk

4 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla

4 egg whites, stiffly beaten

3 doz lady fingers

Whipped cream for serving

Cream sugar and butter. Melt chocolate in double boiler. Add sugar, milk, and egg yolks.

Cook until thick, stirring constantly. When custard is cool, stir in butter mixture, add vanilla, fold in egg whites.

Line a pan with oiled paper and arrange lady fingers on bottom and sides, pour in custard.

Place in refrigerator for 24 hours before serving.

To serve, turn out on a plate and cover with whipped cream.

Cook’s Notes & Adaptations:

1. I was unable to find ladyfingers, so I used pound cake instead. I cut the cake into lady finger-sized slices then left it out overnight to dry out a bit.

2. I used a spring-form pan lined with plastic wrap, which made unmolding very easy. However, my “lady fingers” were too tall and the custard filling didn’t come up to the top of the pan. After adding the custard filling I leveled the ladyfingers to the rim of the pan then put it into the fridge per the instructions. After chilling for 24 hours I then cut the ladyfingers level with the firm custard prior to unmolding.

3. After combining all the custard ingredients in the double boiler I did move it the pan to low direct heat while continuously stirring to thicken the custard. Once the custard was thickened I put it through a mesh sieve to get out any lumps.


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