Written By: Justin Brett
There are many famous people who lived in Sault Ste. Marie, many of whom have also appeared in this blog. People like Thomas Durham or Paul Kane are fairly well-known in this category, but one people may not know off-heart is Joseph Laderoute. Rather than being a politician or an explorer, he was a professional singer, and a very talented one at that.
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Joseph seems to have led a normal life as a young boy, becoming one of many choir-singers at his local church at the age of five. This might have ended up being just a short chapter of Joseph's life if not for a twist of fate: as it so happens, a man named Arthur S. Somers, a Brooklyn educator in singing, happened to be at Sacred Heart Church that day on invitation. He was meant to sing himself, but claims to have been so overcome by Joseph's soprano voice, which he likened to an angel's, that he was unable to.
Somers spoke with Joseph's mother, and was able to convince her to bring her son to New York to take lessons from him. He would not be the first to teach Joseph in this field, as Mrs. Laderoute had been taking him across the river to be tutored in the States for some time. Joseph had even won a gold medal in a competition with 37 other boy sopranos before meeting Somers.
By all accounts Joseph's early career in a national eye was a very successful one. He sang in large cities including New York and Chicago, becoming known (however incorrectly) as America's greatest Boy Soprano. Throughout it all he kept a humble, friendly demeanor about him, charming many.
Yet through this tour there was always a question: what would the future hold for Joseph? 'Boy Soprano' is a term for good reason: it's only possible to sing in that tone as a boy, since vocal chords inevitably change as people grow older. It is possible to sing well as both a boy and a man, of course, but tenor singing is obviously much different, and there was no guarantee Joseph would be as naturally gifted with that tone. He was not pessimistic on this topic, noting that 'The Lord has given me a voice and He can take it away from me', and even training himself in organ-playing for that eventuality.
When that time did come, however, Joseph's soprano voice was indeed replaced with a fine tenor one, by which point the young man had realized his calling truly was music. He would go on to use his new voice to appear in several operas, among them Carmen and Peter Grimes. He was not always the star of these, but his voice was routinely praised.
As he grew in this field, Joseph began to cultivate a deeper appreciation for what went into the singing
and music - an opera, after all, is the combination of both music and story, and the lyrics are a crucial part of that combination. After forming a chorus of his own, the Harford Choral Society, Joseph instructed those who were part of it to study the words sung in these operas and offer their own interpretations of what meaning they held. He also held the belief that a singer should be motivated by serving the author's intentions and making their work seem appealing, rather than simply trying to sound good themselves.
Despite all his fame and titles, Joseph never lost sight of the place he had originally come from. As a boy he mentioned disliking when people said he came from a small, French-Canadian town, describing Sault Ste. Marie's strong points and saying its church was among the most beautiful in Canada. Given he held such pride on our city, it is only fair we hold some for him in return, no?