Harriet Steel was born on 25 June 1891 in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of Sanger Steel (1863-1920) and Emma Oledine Demmond (1866-1949). She was educated at Bryn Mawr College, and was an accomplished athlete. She married on 9 June 1917 Albert Francis Pickernell (1890-1966), a 1914 Harvard graduate active in organizing competitions among collegiate men's glee clubs. This activity led to the formation of the Intercollegiate Musical Council in 1920 (now known as Intercollegiate Men's Chorus, Inc.) with Albert Pickernell as its president. Harriet became the executive secretary of the IMC in 1921, serving until 1936. Her marriage apparently ended in divorce. Subsequently she undertook a long career in artist management and concert promotion. Later she married sometime business partner and oboist Paul Berthoud (1885-1948); following his death she married a Mr. Williams, but she continued to use the name Harriet Steel Pickernell in all her professional dealings. During the World War II years, she worked for Broadcasting Abroad, Ltd., a firm specializing in radio programming for Spanish-speaking countries. She had no children. She retired to Coral Gables, Florida, where she resided at the Musicians' Club of America until her death in February 1965. She was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Joliet, the last family member to be interred in the family plot.
The marriage of Albert Francis Pickernell of this city, a son of Mr. and Mrs. S.A. [recte F.A.] Pickernell of Englewood, N.J., and Miss Harriet Steel, a daughter of Mrs. Sanger Steel of Chicago, and a niece of Mrs. George F. Pullman [recte a cousin of Mrs. George M. Pullman], took place at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon in the Church of the Transfiguration, East Twenty-ninth Street, the ceremony being performed by the Rev. George Keating Smith of Westfield.
Miss Steel wore a sand-colored georgette crepe afternoon frock trimmed with filet lace, topped by a rose-colored straw hat trimmed in the same shade and faced with sand-colored crepe, and carried white roses and lilies. Her only attendant was her mother, in amethyst silk, topped with a hat to match, and wearing orchids.
Sanger B. Steel, the bride's brother, walked with her and gave her in marriage. Robert V. Arnold of this city was the best man, and the ushers were Kenneth Wenger of Chicago, Henry May, John F. Sanger, and Emery Miller of New York. There were about 150 guests at the church, and a small reception for the relatives and a few close friends was held at Delmonico's. On their return to New York Mr. and Mrs. Pickernell will live at 82 Washington Square West.
[The New York Times, 10 June 1917]
Management Harriet Steel Pickernell and Paul Berthoud announce a widely varied list of concert attractions for the season 1931-32.
Individual artists under this management include Edna Thomas, in a program of spirituals and Creole songs; George Morgan, baritone - martin; Naoum Blinder, Russian violinist; and Devora Nadworney, contralto, by arrangement with the National Broadcasting Company. Vera Curtis gives her opera lecture recitals under this banner; Sigurd Nilssen, bass-baritone; Salvatore M. De Stefano, harpist; Alice Paton, lyric soprano; and Rudolph Gruen, pianist, will also concertize from this bureau.
Other artists are Mary Silveira, soprano; Katherine Ives, pianist; Edythe Browning, soprano, and Marshall Bartholomew, composer and interpreter of American folk music.
Among the ensembles, the Philharmonic String Quartet of New York is listed, consisting of Scipione Guidi, Arthur Lichstein, Leon Barzin and Alberigo Guidi. The Salvatore De Stefano Trio, including Mr. De Stefano, John Corigliano, violin, and Ossip Giskin, 'cello, is another instrumental group of the Pickernell forces.
An interesting feature is the Grand Opera Quartet, with Bianca Saroya, Devora Nadworney, Dimitri Onofrei and Sigurd Nilssen; and another, the Holland Vocal Trio, comprises Josephine Kirpal, soprano, Elise Letting, mezzo,and Edwina Eustis, contralto.
The Yale Glee Club, under Marshall Bartholomew, is a vocal organization flying the Pickernell banner.
Other ensembles are the University Singers, with Percy Morningstar, Roger Bird, Clarence Davies and Howard Barber; and the Little Concert Trio, composed of Margaret Bovard, soprano, Frances Blaisdell, flutist, and Katherine Ives, pianist.
Sonata recitals are given by Truelove and Mackown, 'cello and piano; and Valentine and Murat, violin and piano.
With such a list and the facts of the past season to support enthusiasm, Mrs. Pickernell and Mr. Berthoud expect an increasingly flourishing year in 1931-32.
[Musical America, January 25, 1931]
Mr. Albert Pickernell made the varsity glee club at Harvard in his freshmen year, and HP's brother, Sanger Steel, was the leader of the glee club at that time. AP was the leader of the glee club his senior year, which was 1914. During his Junior year he had the idea for IMC. He and Sanger Steel had been working to raise the standard of singing. They felt that standards in other lines had been raised thru competition in football, track, etc., but that sufficient attention had not been paid to the quality of singing and it was with this in mind that AP set up the first organization.
[Harriet Pickernell, "History of IMC" (Manuscript, 9 May 1956)]
For over fifteen years Harriett Steel Pickernell carried the full burden of the work of the Intercollegiate Musical Council.
The Council started in 1914 to conduct intercollegiate glee club contests, was inactive during World War I but was revived in 1920 and held a contest with six glee clubs participating, and with UGC [University Glee Club, of New York] singing a group during the judges' deliberation and joining the massed clubs in the final group.
Harriett Steel Pickernell became Executive Secretary of the Council in June 1921. She brought to the work a successful experience as concert manager which, combined with her sound musical judgment, her unusual executive abilities and her love for male chorus music resulted in the development of the Intercollegiate Musical Council as an important national musical influence. She assumed direction of the concerts, and as the number of glee clubs increased, organized regional contests. She raised funds by securing contributions from foundations and individuals. These funds made it possible to bring Marshall Bartholomew, Director of Glee Clubs at Yale, into the Council on an expansion program which extended the influence of the Council internationally.
The effects of the depression were felt in 1936 and its activities ceased, but the Council had made a splendid record due to Harriett Steel Pickernell.
The University Glee Club provided support for the Council from the start. After World War II our own past-president, the late Frank Baxter, assumed the leadership, and now the Council is an active organization of those who have the dedicated purpose of developing music among the undergraduates of our institutions of higher learning.
It is peculiarly fitting, therefore, that the University Glee Club at this 129th Concert should provide the platform on which a well-deserved tribute is accorded to Harriett Steel Pickernell.
[University Glee Club of New York City, program of 129th Members' Concert, The Waldorf Astoria Grand Ball Room, December 26, 1958]
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