Mary King Sarah - the Welsh Nightingale
(1875 - 1955) - International Soprano Talysarn
- “llais cyfoethog a mynegiant perffaith”
Born in Talysarn, Mary King Sarah lived up to her striking name: She won numerous prizes at National Eisteddfods (and there’s still a Mary King Sarah prize for Soprano singing at Y ‘Steddfod), was a member of the ‘Orsedd, and performed across Wales and America. She also married three times (in America), ran a clothes shop, worked in a car factory and had five children. Her story illustrates the close connections between quarrying communities of Cornwall, North Wales and America…. And reflects the strong tradition of quarry women singing….
Mary King was the daughter of two musical parents: Sarah Sarah (nee Sarah Jones), a well known contralto singer (“Seren Aerau”), and Tom Sarah, cornet player and leader of the Dyffryn Nantlle band for 50 years (‘even’ performing to Queen Victoria).
Mary King’s dad, Tom, had moved to Talysarn as a child, from Cornwall. Tom and his father worked as a drivers and mechanics in the quarry.
One of 5 children, Mary King Sarah was named after a Cornish relative, Mary King. The Sarah family were members of the Annibynwyr Seion Chapel in Dyffryn Nantlle and Mary Sarah sang with the band and the choir before spinning off into star-dom.
When she first moved to America, Mary King stayed with welsh relatives, including Frank Lloyd Wright, a distant relative of her mum. She married not fewer than three times, each time losing her husband, but she carried on singing (and taking on different jobs to make ends meet), and moved around America, coming back to North Wales every now and then to win an Eisteddfod or two.
There’s even a book about her. Bizarre, then, that she is not more recognised locally! But we may have started to put that right because her story was found by Elin Tomos, working with Elan Williams, during the Merched Chwarel workshop with young people from Talysarn “Unloved Heritage?” project. Elan has continued her research into Mary King Sarah since the workshop, has bought the book, and will hopefully bring her back into the limelight!