Stephen Adams

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Biography

Born: January 31, 1844; Liverpool, England   Died: August 25, 1913; Buxton, England  
Stephen Adams is given in most sources for the composer of "The Holy City," one of the most popular sacred songs in English. Stephen Adams is the show business pseudonym of Michael Maybrick. Born the favored son of a Liverpool family, Maybrick first demonstrated his musical gifts as a star choirboy. When his voice changed, Maybrick traveled to study in Leipzig and later to the Milan Conservatory, where he developed a rich, baritone voice. Read more Maybrick originated his career in light opera, but ultimately switched to singing ballad concerts in public halls throughout the United Kingdom and America. Although he retained his true name as a performer, for published compositions he adopted the name Stephen Adams.

Maybrick/Adams hit his stride through a collaboration with lyricist Frederick E. Weatherly, a well-known London barrister who is sometimes credited for the lyrics to the song "Danny Boy." Adams and Weatherly were the Lennon & McCartney of 1880s Britain, producing a string of popular songs including "Thora," "Nirvana," and "Nancy Lee." "The Holy City," first published in 1892, was Maybrick and Weatherly's final collaboration; shortly afterward, Maybrick broke off the association, which is known to have gone deeper than a merely professional relationship. Maybrick married one of his servants and settled down on the Isle of Wight, where he lived out the rest of his days. Although Maybrick's Stephen Adams compositions continued to appear in print until long after his death, he is not believed to have written another note of music after 1896.

Michael Maybrick's story lay dormant until 1992, when a diary purportedly kept by his brother, James Maybrick was discovered: in it, James Maybrick identifies himself as perpetrator of the arch-notorious Whitechapel murders of 1888 committed by Jack the Ripper. While has the diary been challenged as a forgery, the attention it gathered took James Maybrick's name to the top of the "Ripper" suspect list. It also focused concentration on the role played by Michael Maybrick in helping send his brother's widow to serve an unjust 15-year prison sentence for James Maybrick's alleged murder by arsenic, an event vaguely alluded to in James Joyce's novel Ulysses. These unsavory elements do not serve the reputation of Michael Maybrick well, but they lend interest to his story, which was otherwise of no concern to musicologists. Read less

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