Katherine Tobias


In the 1980's a small, county school in Magnolia, Mississippi was producing incredibly talented students in sports, law, medicine, and music. In one year South Pike High School won state championships in Boy's and Girl's Basketball, Football and Tennis. But perhaps the greatest talent ever produced in that microcosm of time was the magnificent voice of Katherine Tobias.
How she went from Magnolia, Mississippi to the prestigious Tanglewood music camps is a story in itself. But it is important to note that, while at Tanglewood, she sang first chair soprano and was lead soloist at the Lincoln Center concert for Leonard Bernstein's 80th birthday.
On the stage at Tanglewood, she was introduced to Leontyne Price, a fellow Mississippian, who encouraged her and told her she would be the next opera sensation from Mississippi.
In 1987 I was Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, and I invited Katherine to sing the national anthem at the Governor's Awards for the Arts. She sang acappella and received a standing ovation. Unprepared for an encore, she timidly bowed and attempted to retreat, but the crowd, made up of directors of various state agencies, including the Director of the Mississippi Opera Guild, prevailed. She sang again, this time an old spiritual that brought down the house with cheers and applause. As the story goes, the Director of the Opera Guild asked to have a private session with her to put her through some vocal exercises that would test her range. He was amazed. That year more good things began to happen for her and she received a scholarship to Juilliard upon graduation from South Pike High School.
Katherine Tobias never went to Juilliard.
Ten years ago when I saw her, she was on the down side of some bad decisions. Cigarette addiction had claimed her voice and her looks had changed dramatically. No longer thin and wispy, she had piled on unattractive pounds and was obviously not taking care of herself. What disturbed me the most was that the twinkle in her dark eyes was totally gone. She was making biscuits in the early morning hours for the local Popeye's downtown.
Yesterday I was walking my dog, and, from behind a neighbor's house, came a large figure. "Can I have a hug?" she said. She was hardly recognizable, but I held her in my arms and wanted to cry. Dreams don't always come true, but how do you come back from lawn picnics on the grounds of Tanglewood to making biscuits at a fast food restaurant?