America’s 'Young Lady Saxophonist' of the Gilded Age: The Performances, Repertoire, and Critical Reception of Bessie Mecklem

As one of the earliest American-born saxophone soloists, Bessie Harding Mecklem (1875-1942) is a significant figure in the history of the instrument. During a time when female woodwind and brass players were uncommon, Mecklem performed extensively throughout the northeastern United States with her father, harpist H. C. Mecklem. To establish a foundation for further research, the primary goal of this essay is to present, in narrative form, basic information about her professional performing career.

Mecklem was exceptional among Gilded-Age wind instrumentalists, women musicians, and saxophonists in that she worked consistently in such a broad range of settings. The Mecklems presented the saxophone as a serious instrument in the lyceum fifteen years before Clay Smith and G. E. Holmes. Many of the settings in which the Mecklems worked fostered Gilded-Age social ideals. They were sympathetic with the temperance movement and played frequently for lyceum, YMCA, and other anti­alcohol organizations. Performances for fraternal organizations further exposed Mecklem, and the saxophone, to more diverse audiences. The Mecklems performed for the benefit of a great variety of charitable causes and fellow performers.

During the ongoing separation of concert and popular music in the Gilded Age, the Mecklems continued to program a mix of cultivated and vernacular works. Though she likely did not possess great technical virtuosity, Mecklem earned a reputation as an expressive musician and an accomplished performer. She often toured with highly regarded humorists and elocutionists. Her newspaper reviews are consistently positive and document enthusiastic response from her audiences.



Work Title America’s 'Young Lady Saxophonist' of the Gilded Age: The Performances, Repertoire, and Critical Reception of Bessie Mecklem
Open Access
  1. Thomas W Smialek
  2. L A Logrande
License In Copyright (Rights Reserved)
Work Type Article
  1. The Saxophone Symposium
Publication Date January 1, 2014
Deposited October 10, 2022




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