Grace Moore, popular soprano in opera, musical comedy, and film, was born December 6, 1901, in Slabtown, Cocke County, and christened Mary Willie Grace. She spent her youth in Jellico, where she sang in her church choir. After studying briefly at Ward-Belmont College, she continued her musical training in Washington and New York. Early experience with a touring company was followed by her Broadway debut in 1920 in the musical, Hitchy Koo, by Jerome Kern. In 1923 she starred in Irving Berlin’s The Music Box Review. Inspired by Mary Garden, and after training in France, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Mimi in La Boheme in 1928. This was also her first role at the Opera Comique in Paris and in London’s Covent Garden. Long maintaining her association with the Metropolitan Opera, she sang in a variety of Italian and French operas as well as the title roles in Tosca, Manon, and Louise, which was considered her greatest success. Lured to Hollywood, she made her cinema debut in 1930 in A Lady’s Morals, based on the life of Jenny Lind, and she achieved international fame with One Night of Love (1934). Other movies followed, including a film version of Louise.
Through her films Moore did much to popularize opera with a wide audience. In opera and concerts she delighted audiences in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. She was happily married to the Spanish screen actor, Valentin Parera, and she published an autobiography, You’re Only Young Once, in 1944. The motion picture, So This Is Love, was based on her career. On January 26, 1947, after singing for American troops, she was killed at the height of her fame in an airplane crash leaving Copenhagen. She bequeathed her scores, books, letters, and souvenirs to Ward-Belmont. The University of Tennessee has since acquired her papers.