Albion College Graduate
Class of 1908
Darleen Wellington Miller was often described as Albion’s “First Lady of Music.” She was a dramatic soprano and performed on the Chautauqua circuit, directed and performed in operas, and wrote a book of hymns. She was an accomplished pianist and violinist and also played the mandolin and drums.
Born February 16, 1885, she was adopted by Elias and Juliette Crosby Wellington, prominent citizens and property owners in Springport, Michigan. She was indulged in every way, having among other things a team of ponies and a pony cart.
Darleen graduated from Springport High School and the family moved to Albion while she attended Albion College, graduating from the Conservatory in 1908. After extra work at Albion College, she studied voice at the Anna Graff-Bryand Institute in Chicago for nearly four years. In 1913 she returned to Albion and opened a music and voice studio in the family home at 713 East Cass, which had been built in 1885 by Louis Ransom Fiske, president of Albion College from 1887 to 1897.
She was joined in the music school by Nema Phipps, then a piano instructor at Albion College. For more than 55 years the two women operated the Miller-Phipps Studios just across from the college campus.
During the 1914 season, both women performed on the Lincoln Chautauqua circuit, making 285 appearances. Darleen became known as “Madame Nightingale.” They performed often as joint recitalists and for guests at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in its heyday. The Studio staged three elaborate Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the 1920s with their students as the performers. The Studio also had a men’s glee club and men’s quartets. Dudley Vernor, co-composer of “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi,” was an accompanist for the men’s groups. Darleen considered Hilton Dressel, founder of the Dressel Opera Company of New York City, as her most accomplished student.
Twin grand pianos graced the Miller-Phipps second-floor studios. The casement from those upper windows had to be removed to get the pianos in, as the staircase was a circular one. The studios were decorated to the taste of each woman with gifts from all over the world, sent or brought to them by their students. The main floor parlors were the recital rooms.
Darleen was the niece of Ada Crosby Bortles and a friend of Floyd Starr, founder of Starr Commonwealth, and sang at the wedding of his son, David. She heard Caruso sing once and also saw Sarah Bernhardt in “Camille” in Boston.
Each year, for many years, Albion College performed “The Messiah” and she found the solo talent for those performances.
Darleen died in January of 1978.
Sources: Albion Public Library, Local History Room, Wellington and Phipps family files
From: Albion AAUW. Some Notable Women of the Albion Area. Albion, Michigan: American Association of University Women. 1998.