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John Charles Thomas papers

Identifier: PIMS-0074

Scope and Contents

The John Charles Thomas papers (1903-1991) contain personal papers, scores, correspondence, ephemera, and recordings. Series 1 includes manuscript and published scores. Series 2 contains various concert programs featuring performances by Thomas. Series 3 contains publications and clippings including magazines, newspaper clippings, and magazine clippings.

Series 4 contains correspondence, personal papers, and business papers. A large portion of the series includes scripts from films and radio programs. Another large portion of the series includes manuscript copies of a biography of Thomas written by Merle Armitage. Materials created by archives staff in the course of preparing for the Peabody exhibit on Thomas in 1991 have been retained in this series. Included is correspondence, photographs, and inventories of the sheet music collection. Series 5 contains various ephemera that belonged to Thomas, including costumes, trophies, and framed artwork.

Series 6 contains photographs from Thomas' performances, appearances, and personal life. Also included are scrapbooks containing clippings and photographs from various performances. Series 7 contains recordings of live performances and radio programs. The recordings are on magnetic wire, reel-to-reel, audiocassette, and 45- or 78-rpm records; a few have been transferred to CD.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1903-1991


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for use at the Peabody Archives. Contact for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright. All requests for permission to publish or perform materials in this collection must be submitted in writing to the archivist of the Arthur Friedheim Library.

Biographical / Historical

John Charles Thomas studied at the Peabody Conservatory from 1909 to 1912, after which he became an established star of Broadway musicals. Thomas traveled to Europe in 1924 and sang for the Brussels Opera. He proved such a success that his contract was extended for three seasons and he sang 15 roles. He sang the world premiere performance of Milhaud's Les Malheurs d'Orphée and the Brussels premieres of Salome and Parsifal. In 1928, Thomas made his debut at Covent Garden as Valentin in Faust. He made his Metropolitan debut in 1934 as Germont in La Traviata with another Baltimorean, Rosa Ponselle. For the next decade, Thomas' career was at its peak. In addition to his opera performances and frequent radio broadcasts, he sang more than 70 recitals a year in towns and cities all across the United States. During World War II, Thomas performed at military bases, sang for Victory recordings for overseas distribution, and performed at Victory Bond rallies.

John Charles Thomas emphasized the importance of poetry as a source of musical inspiration, which resulted in music written especially for him with lyrics by major American poets of the first half of the 20th century. Thomas' repertoire included many songs with lyrics by Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Joyce Kilmer, and others. Thomas worked with many women composers who wrote music especially for him. The works of 92 women composers figured in his music library, including works by Carrie Jacobs Bond, Margaret Carreau, Elizabeth Kent Charles, Mary Carr Moore, Clara Edwards, and Mabel Wood Hill.

A pioneering figure in radio, Thomas' long broadcasting career made him a favorite in homes across the country. He performed with a host of well-known performers, including Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, and Al Jolson and hosted his own immensely popular Westinghouse Hour. After his concert career ended in 1955, Thomas remained active in light opera, continuing his radio and television career, and becoming director of the Music Academy of the West. Thomas was also a philanthropist, hosting annual concerts to raise money for local hospitals. He continued teaching and championing young artists until his death in 1960.


42.52 Cubic Feet (100 total: 6 record center boxes, 49 medium flat boxes, 16 full-size legal boxes, 2 full-size letter boxes, 1 half-size letter box, 6 half-size legal boxes, 3 card file boxes, 1 original card catalog box, 6 large flat boxes, 2 small flat boxes)

Language of Materials



John Charles Thomas was an internationally known baritone who attended Peabody Institute from 1909 to 1912. His papers include scores, personal and business papers, concert programs, clippings, correspondence, ephemera, photographs, and recordings.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Some recordings in series 7 are on obsolete or fragile formats. Access to these items may be limited depending on the physical condition of each item and the repository's ability to support the playback of recordings stored on outdated media.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed inventory of the scores in boxes 1-32 in series 1 exists offline in box 54 of the collection and in the archives' administrative files. Please contact the Peabody Archives for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Dorothy Thomas, widow of John Charles Thomas, in 1961. Additional materials donated by Harriet Rebecca Holliday in 1992, Barbara Davisson in 1993, Michael Maher in 2000, and Shirley Taschenberg in 2001.

Related Materials

Several recordings of Thomas and books about him can be located through the library catalog. A 1990s compilation CD, An American Classic, contains biographical notes by archivist Elizabeth Schaaf.

Processing Information

Processing completed by Kerri Sheehan in 2017.

The Peabody Archives mounted an exhibit about Thomas' career, "John Charles Thomas: An American Classic," in 1991. Some of the collection's arrangement and physical processing was likely carried out at that time by archivist Elizabeth Schaaf. Materials and research notes created by archives staff for that exhibit were commingled with the original source material and have not been separated.


Guide to the John Charles Thomas papers
Kerri Sheehan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Archives Repository

Peabody Institute
1 E. Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore MD 21202 USA