The Columbia Music Festival Association was founded following reconstruction in 1897, by Mayor Wm. McB. Sloan, and the Alderman of the City. It was headquartered in the Columbia Theatre, the opera house on the corner of today’s Main Street and Gervais Street. The building was also the City Hall at the time. It was described as “extravagant” and plagued by building corruption scandals. That building was destroyed by fire in 1899. The second City Hall – Opera House – was begun in 1900, and completed in 1901. It became the home of the CMFA until it was abandoned by municipal government. CMFA, while still keeping its links to municipal government, then moved to the Arcade Building, Township Auditorium, and then to the Columbia Museum grounds in the Horry-Guignard House* (originally built in 1790, and the former residence of John Gabriel Guignard). From other more temporary headquarters, the CMFA finally purchased property in the historic Congaree Vista at 914 Pulaski Street, which today (2017) houses the CMFA and the CMFA ArtSpace which has become a visitor and tourist destination bringing over 25, 000 visitors and artists participants to the ArtSpace each year. It is a cultural facility unique to the Midlands of South Carolina.
Columbia Music Festival Association was established as a partnership between government and the community. It was the outgrowth of the Dertheck Music Club (April 27, 1897) whose members worked closely with municipal government leaders to formalize the relationship between government and the private sector. The Opera House, although unfinished opened on December 1, 1900 under the management of Fitz Hugh Brown, although the City Council was directly in charge, through the Columbia Music Festival Association. The building was remodeled in 1906.
The CMFA was essentially, even at that time, a resource for the community; helping to present concerts by the many touring artists and ensembles travelling through Columbia; many concert programs were also given in churches, schools and even private residences. Prior to the formalization of the CMFA, concerts were held as early as 1831, and there was even a season (1844-1845) which brought “Grand Concerts” by artists from Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, Boston and Berlin.
There was a large local choral union that existed during the period from 1840-1879; and an orchestra was organized under the aegis of the Columbia Music Festival Association. This orchestra is said to have traveled and performed across the state. Fitz Hugh Brown who was named manager of the opera house in the early 1890’s remained manager until 1931 (except in 1922 when J.T. Lester was manager). In the early 1900’s the Afternoon Music Club (1905) and later the Evening Music Club, were instrumental in enriching the musical life of the community and they became even more active in the Columbia Music Festival Association of the 1930’s when the Artist Concert Series was established.
“The State” newspaper of April 21, 1894, gives an account of a concert by the Columbia Music Festival and the Columbia Choral Society, assisted by a famous Austrian pianist, Schwarwenka. Much of the credit for the success of this program was given to the College for Women, where all rehearsals were held. Director of that group was Professor George McCoy, the accompanist was Mrs. Ida Folk, and the President of the Association was Ambrose E. Gonzales. It was under his leadership, working with local government, that the Columbia Music Festival Association became firmly established.
Throughout the early years, CMFA continued to present concerts at the Columbia Theater. During that time the word “Festival” was used much more celebratory. Today, it has come to mean a series for events or concerts.
The Columbia Music Festival Association brought the international Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra (Germany) in April, 1909. The orchestra brought its own soloists and was joined in the by the Choral Society of Columbia and a children’s chorus of over 200 voices. During that time Edwin G. Seibels was president of CMFA, and the Choral Society, with W.S. Reamer as Vice-President and Jean Adger Flinn as Secretary-Treasurer.
During the early part of the 20th Century, the CMFA continued to present concerts both by international artists, local artists, and community groups. Ensembles such as the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra, the Victor Herbert Orchestra, and the Russian Symphony Orchestra played in Columbia. The concerts also had a direct outreach to the servicemen stationed at Camp Jackson, and were an important part of the life of the community. There was a great deal of “Town and Gown” cooperation between the University of South Carolina and the City through the Columbia Music Festival Association.
These concert seasons were extremely successful and put the City of Columbia on a national and international music scene. It was not until the Community Chorus contest held in 1930, under the aegis of the Columbia Music Festival Association, as a part of the annual Community Chest Drive, that the winning chorus, the Shandon Choral, presented a festival concert together with the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, DC) in 1934-35. Tickets to this concert were $1.00, and there were 1,750 in attendance.
This concert was the impetus for the revitalization of the Columbia Music Festival Association and the establishment of the Columbia Music Festival Association Artist Concert Series. The CMFA, in this 1935 regrouping, was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation. James Y. Perry was the President of the Association and his wife Katherine Manning Perry, President of the Shandon Choral Society, was instrumental in all aspects of the Association’s artistic endeavors. The new structure gave CMFA a Board of 21 citizens from Columbia and 45 representatives from throughout the state, one from each county. Funding from the City and County governments, together with private support enabled the CMFA to offer a new concert series – in addition to its work as a community arts resource. Season tickets were $3.00, and there were 2,285 in attendance.
In 1938, the Columbia Music Festival Association engaged a full time music director, Hans Schwieger. He developed a 500 voice children’s choir and presented full orchestral concerts with such renowned artists as Lily Pons, James Melton and Jose Iturbi.
In the fall of 1939, CMFA established an Orchestra School with a staff of ten first chair players. They gave free lessons once or twice a week to any South Carolinian who wanted to learn how to become an orchestral musician. Over 1500 lessons were given to 96 young people and adults from 19 different communities in South Carolina.
In January, 1940, using the staff of the Orchestra School as a nucleus, CMFA established the Southern Symphony Orchestra. It was a professional orchestra of sixty musicians.
Conducted by Hans Schwieger, the Southern Symphony gave 20 concerts throughout the state; reached over 50,000 people, and engaged children’s choruses or local soloists for the programs.
In addition to the symphony concerts each year, CMFA presented such attractions as the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, American Ballet Theatre, Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald, Arthur Rubenstein and the National Ballet of Canada.
Columbia was an arts leader; far ahead of neighboring communities and states. Again, during the war years, CMFA programs were a vital and vibrant part of the community morale and its outreach to the trainees at Fort Jackson. Maestro Schwieger, who because of his German heritage, was detained during part of the war years, went on after the war to become the conductor of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra and was guest conductor throughout the United States and Europe. In the 1980’s the CMFA invited him back as an honored guest. This Southern Symphony Orchestra continued under the baton of Carl Bamburger, until it disbanded in 1951.
While the Columbia Music Festival Association continued to bring international and national guest artists and orchestras to the Columbia area – performing now at the Township Auditorium, it was in 1961, that Dr. and Mrs. Darrell E. Richardson began to research the possibility of establishing a Columbia based orchestra. He was also a composer and she a violinist. In 1963, the CMFA underwrote a concert as a pilot project for the rebuilding of a local orchestra. This orchestra performed in the spring of 1963, and featured Harry Jacobs of Augusta, Georgia, as Conductor.
From this first concert, the Columbia Festival Orchestra was born. The first concert, again under the aegis of the Columbia Music Festival Association, was held on Monday, April 29, 1963 at the Township Auditorium. Marian Stanley Benson was the piano soloist and John Bauer, violin Soloist.
Following the success of this concert, CMFA appointed a committee under Julian Hennig, Jr., as chairman to study the feasibility of CMFA fully sponsoring a community orchestra. On February 27, 1964, the CMFA accepted the major proposal for the development of the Columbia Festival Orchestra. Dr. Arthur M. Fraser, the newly appointed head of the music department at the University of South Carolina was consultant to the board and served as the first conductor for the orchestra. David C. Sennema was hired as full-time business manager for the CMFA, the CMFA Artist Series and the Orchestra.
It was during this time, that the CMFA moved its headquarters to the Arcade Building on Main Street. After the destruction of the Columbia Theatre by a devastating fire, the CMFA moved its concerts to the newly built Township Auditorium and performed other concert programs at schools and churches throughout the community. CMFA continued to serve as the city’s official arts agency even though it was no longer headquartered with city government in City Hall. For a brief period of time the CMFA headquarters was in the Township Auditorium.
The Columbia Festival Orchestra quickly took hold on the community and became one of the leaders in the arts in the Midlands. As it grew and developed under CMFA, the Orchestra changed its name, first to the Columbia Philharmonic, under the baton of Dr. Arpad Darazs, and then to the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra when the orchestra merged with the South Carolina Chamber Orchestra. Dr. Einar Anderson was appointed Conductor and the Orchestra was able to embark on its own. In 2014, the orchestra celebrated its 50th Anniversary season.
In 1956, the Columbia Lyric Theatre was established under the chairmanship of Charles J. Fritz. This organization was the outgrowth of CMFA’s early Opera Study Group of the 1930-1940. During its early years the company presented many light operas, and cooperated with community groups such as Town Theatre and later, Workshop Theatre of South Carolina.
Under the umbrella of the CMFA, the Columbia Lyric Theatre flourished with the direction of Frank Harris and Sidney Palmer. In 1973-74, following Sidney Palmer’s resignation, the Lyric Theatre joined with the University of South Carolina School of Music under the direction of Dr. William J. Moody as director and conductor. Dr. Donald Gray was Artistic Director. John Richards McCrae became the first season guest director and it was in during the 1977-78 season that the company changed its name and became the Columbia Lyric Opera; and all its productions, again under the aegis of the CMFA, were presented in cooperation with the USC School of Music. Grand Opera from “Faust” and “Madama Butterfly” to “Tosca”, “La Traviata”,” Merry Wives of Windsor”, “Die Fledermaus”, “La Boheme” and “Hansel and Gretel”, with local singers joined by international stars became the operatic fare for the city. When Dr. Moody stepped down as Head of the School of Music at USC, and USC decided to create its own productions, the Columbia Lyric Opera could no longer continue without the USC financial support. And a once strong and significant opera patronage base eroded. Today a smaller, mostly touring opera company, FBN Opera for Children, continues the operatic traditions of audience development with professional productions under the direction of Ellen Schlaeffer.
The volunteer leadership of the opera took flight under the presidencies of Barbara Guignard and Elizabeth Wessels. In 1965, Leon Harrelson was hired to replace David Sennema as Executive Director of the CMFA. The Executive Director of the CMFA also served as Executive Director for all the CMFA’s affiliated organizations. Harrelson, a native of Dillon, SC, had a long career in arts management in New York City with such esteemed impresarios as Sol Hurok and the Columbia Artists Management team. David Sennema went on the head the South Carolina Arts Commission and then the SC State Museum Commission.
The CMFA was invited by the Board of Trustees of the Columbia Art Association and director, Dr. John Richard Craft, to relocate its headquarters to the Columbia Museum complex on Senate Street in 1965. CMFA took by residence in the historic Horry-Guignard House on the corner of Senate and Pickens Streets. That location, shared with visual artists, J. Bardin, Catharine Rembert, and David Van Hook, was a hub of all arts activity. The Senate Street location was alive with the city arts festival, Mayfest, coordinated by the Columbia Action Council and the CMFA. A memorial fountain, recognizing the success of Mayfest was erected on Senate Street between Pickens Street and Bull Street.
In was also in the mid-1960’s that the CMFA took part in the civil right movement. The CMFA Artist Series audiences at the Township Auditorium were quietly integrated and the educational outreach was extended from Columbia College and USC to include Claflin College, Vorhees College and SC State. All colleges were offered special discounted tickets in the balcony which was filled for every event.
From the beginning of the Artist Concert Series in the 1935, season throughout its long-run until the 1990’s, CMFA presented almost every major international star including: Sadler’s Wells Ballet( Royal Ballet); Don Cossacks with Sergei Jaroff; Grace Moore; Nelson Eddy; Jeannette MacDonald; Lily Pons; Lotte Lehman; Rise Stevens; Gladys Swarthout; Lauritz Melchior; Gregor Piatigorsky, Yehudi Menuhin, Claudia Arrau; Helen Traubel, Mia Slavenska, Enzio Pinza, Frits Kreisler, Regina Resnik; Rudolf Serkin; Alicia Markova; Alexandra Danilova; Vladimir Horowitz; New York Philharmonic; New York City Opera; Richard Tucker; Anna Moffo; Robert Shaw Chorale; Alicia Alonzo; Boston Pops with Arthur Fidler; Royal Winnipeg Ballet; Metropolitan Opera National Company; New York City Opera; Osipov Balalaika Orchestra; Houston Symphony Orchestra with Andre Previn; Pennsylvania Ballet; Leontyne Price; Isaac Stern; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Margot Fonteyn; Beryoska Dance Company of Moscow; Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company; Budapest Symphony; Royal Swedish Ballet;Strasbourg Philharmonic; Beverly Sills with Charles Wadsworth; Bolshoi Ballet; Itzhak Perlman…many of them appeared more than once.
Famed pianist Arthur Rubenstein played to Columbia audiences so often that he was named an honorary “Citizen of Columbia” by Mayor Lester Bates. At that concert he presented his concert fee back to CMFA as a donation. This is just a very small sample of the artists that CMFA presented to Columbia through the Artist Concert Series. That CMFA Series was a mainstay of classicism for many years, but it also brought such popular artists as Sonny & Cher, Tom Jones, Lawrence Welk, Marie Osmond and even Flip Wilson…who performed not at The Township, but at the Coliseum.
Columbia Music Festival Association was working with arts groups from theater and orchestras to opera and then in 1972, officially with dance. The Columbia City Ballet, under the direction of founder, Ann Brodie and its board President, Cynthia Gilliam, came under the umbrella of the CMFA.
Columbia City Ballet was founded in 1961, but it was under the umbrella of CMFA that the company was able to expand and become a major regional ballet company and a pre-eminent pre-professional training company. The City Ballet flourished and performed throughout the state. In 1988, Ann Brodie resigned her directorship as the City Ballet became a professional company. It was in that year that Ms. Brodie, together with John Whitehead, and a small group of Columbia dance leaders including Mimi Wortham Brown, Anita Ashley, Donna Lewis, Mimi Worrell and Adolfina Suarez formed Ann Brodie’s Carolina Ballet, as a civic ballet company, open to all qualified dancers through open audition. Ann Brodie’s Carolina Ballet became an affiliate of the Columbia Music Festival Association in 1988.
That company, Ann Brodie’s Carolina Ballet, was to continue the traditions of civic ballet, community outreach and pre-professional training that are its hallmark. The first year the Ballet created a Junior Company under the direction of Mimi Worrell who today is the Artistic Director of the Carolina Ballet. Since its inception, Carolina Ballet has trained dancers who are today performing on stages throughout the globe.
In 1982, John Whitehead was appointed as Executive Director for the Columbia Music Festival Association. He was associated with the agency since 1965, when as a serviceman stationed at Fort Jackson, he was a volunteer for CMFA. In 1967, he became part-time director of promotion with a grant from the newly formed South Carolina Arts Commission.
In was in the mid-1980’s that the Columbia Dance Theatre under the direction of Pam Bailey became a part of the CMFA as did Anne Richardson’s DanSework Jazz, MorningStar, Vibrations Dance Company, the SC Shakespeare Company, FBN Opera for Children and Turku. In 1988, Donna Lewis created the Eboni Dance Theatre, using the format of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Eboni then developed a professional contemporary wing featuring Afro-Jazz fusion dance, and CORE was organized. Chamber music groups and newly emerging individual artists became a part of the CMFA’s family of the “arts.” CMFA became an active participant in the Main Street Jazz, the Concerts in the Parks and in the annual Mayfest celebrations of arts in the City. CMFA presented pops concerts with jazz musician and performers in restaurants and clubs throughout the city and set in motion the “Thom Jones & Friends Series.”
The Columbia Music Festival Association sponsored the Metropolitan Opera National Council District Auditions for the South Carolina Region under the direction and guidance of MET National Opera Guild member Elizabeth Wessels who succeeded Leon Harrelson as District Director.
Although one of the inaugural agencies of the Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties, the Columbia Music Festival Association withdrew from that organization in 1988. Presidents Edward Roberts and Anne Rollinson led the CMFA through this transition period.
At the beginning of the 21st century, CMFA welcomed UnBound Dance Company, the SC Contemporary Dance Company, and The Midlands Center for Expressive Arts and Artists for Africa as partners and established the Center for Dance Education.
In 2009, CMFA created the Stanley Donen Film Festival with a major film and dance component. CMFA invited the Nickelodeon/Columbia Film Society, under Larry Hembree, to partner in the creative endeavor which not only showcased the Columbia native, Stanley Donen’s academy award winning works, but also celebrated his innovative creativity with an independent film festival. This festival has become today’s IndieGrits Festival which brings hundreds of visitors to Columbia each year. This festival is one of the prime examples of the success of the arts funding through the City of Columbia’s Hospitality Tax revenues.
Through the ‘80’s and ‘90’s CMFA organized and helped create signature events such as PUB Night, Horizon Fashion, 1001 Arabian Nights, and the much copied Beaux Arts Ball which featured full orchestra for cocktails and the acclaimed Peter Duchin Orchestra for dinner and dancing. The Grand Opening of the Columbia Mall, under the sponsorship of the developer and Kahn Construction, with Alan and Charlotte Kahn spearheading the event, was a social coup for CMFA and the City, helping to bring awareness and support to all the arts under the CMFA umbrella. Again, for this event Peter Duchin and his orchestra were featured, along with international fashion designers.
Whitehead’s leadership as Executive Director and CEO, took the CMFA far past its earliest roots to become truly the city’s arts go-to and resource agency. Artists, both visual and performing, new, emerging arts groups and artists, as well as the stalwarts of the Columbia arts community have come to use the CMFA and its resources. He was chosen as one of the Thousand Points of Light for the United States and in 1990, was awarded the President’s Volunteer Action Award Citation by President George H. Bush and was honored at a White House luncheon. He has served on the South Carolina Arts Commission (appointed by Gov. Carroll Campbell); has received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for the Arts, named the 2000 Outstanding Fund Raising Executive by the National Society of Fund Raising Executives. He has received many awards and recognition and has served on committees and task forces at the national, state, and local levels including the SC Arts Commission.
As a community resource – and a statutory arm of government: The CMFA Commission was established by Joint Legislative Statute in 1965. The City of Columbia and Richland County each appoint two representatives to the CMFA’s governing board. The CMFA is there to fulfill its mission and assist artists and arts agencies in every way possible. It is funded by City of Columbia with additional funding from Richland County, and through the SC Arts Commission. While its mandate forbids CMFA to conflict with those organizations it was established to help, its community support comes from friends of the CMFA. For many years funding for CMFA on the government level came from the General Fund. With the passage of the Hospitality Tax and Accommodations Tax, those revenue sources have been major components of CMFA funding. CMFA is not only a resource, but also a destination for the arts. The CMFA ArtSpace is an arts destination for the City and is funded heavily by line item funding from the City of Columbia as a cultural facility. Other much needed funding comes from the South Carolina Arts Commission and Richland County.
Columbia Music Festival Association is a unique resource. It is currently housed in a 23,000 sq. ft. adaptive reuse warehouse in the Congaree Vista of Columbia. The space offers multi-purpose rehearsal studios, meeting spaces, costume and prop storage and building space. CMFA also makes itself available to many different performing groups that have need of the small black-box theater. Groups such as NIA Theatre Company, the Columbia City Ballet, Columbia Classical Ballet, Artists for Africa, PALSS and many others have presented successful performances at the CMFA ArtSpace and been able to rehearse at the ArtSpace. The ArtSpace building at 914 Pulaski Street was acquired in the early 1990’s under the presidency of Thom Jones, and a Board of Directors who shared Whitehead’s vision for the future.
CMFA’s audience development programs, begun in 1967, have enriched the lives of thousands of young people, especially reaching out to those in Richland County School District One. And its volunteer programs for community service projects are ongoing. Many of those performers who have become a part of the CMFA Family of the Arts are on stages all over the globe; most are still here in Columbia. They are the audiences of today, the artists of today, and the creative class that enriches Columbia.
*The Horry-Guignard House was a lively arts center in the early 1960’s through the 1980’s. Not only was it the home of the Columbia Music Festival Association and the Columbia Junior League, but it also had studios for many of Columbia’s most distinguished visual artists including J. Bardin, David Van Hook, and Catherine Rembert. Dr. John Richard Craft, the first director of the Columbia Museum of Art, believed in the collaboration of all the arts for their growth and success. His leadership created an artistic hub – the museum block bounded by Senate and Gervais Streets and Bull and Pickens Streets.