Frances Blaisdell (1912–2009) was a legend among American flutists, having served as longtime protogée of George Barrère and studied with such luminaries as Marcel Moyse and William Kincaid. Although she broke orchestral gender barriers throughout the 20th century, her career highlights were in chamber and solo performance and in teaching.
Blaisdell studied with Ernest Wagner of the New York Philharmonic. In 1928 she successfully auditioned for Georges Barrère, with whom she studied at the Institute of Musical Art and the Juilliard Graduate School. He selected her to fill his position in the Barrère Trio after he had a stroke in 1941. She was the first woman wind player to perform solo with the New York Philharmonic when she performed there in 1932. She also performed as a soloist at Radio City Music Hall in 1935.
She formed the Blaisdell Woodwind Quintet with members of the New York Philharmonic (including clarinetist Alexander Williams, whom she married in 1937), the Blaisdell Trio of New York, and other ensembles. She played with the New Friends of Music, the Bach Circle, on Broadway, and as accompanist to Lily Pons, and performed in recital with harpist Mildred Dilling, harpsichordist Ernst Victor Wolff, the Gordon Quartet, and composer Henry Hadley. At the League of Composers, she gave the premiere of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Suite, and in Town Hall she played the New York premiere of the Bloch Suite Modale.
Blaisdell was principal flutist in the Phil Spitalny All Girls Band with the New York City Ballet. In the 1960s, she became the first woman wind player to perform with the New York Philharmonic—as an “extra man.”
Blaisdell taught at the Manhattan School of Music, Mannes, the Dalcroze School, and New York University. In 1973 she “retired” to California, where she accepted an interim appointment as flute teacher at Stanford University. She continued teaching there until two months before her death in 2009, and in 2006 received the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Education. She is best known for passing on the French tradition as the teacher of several generations of American flute students. Chamber Music magazine wrote in 1992, “Every woman flute player in every major American orchestra, every little girl who pays the flute in a school band, has Frances Blaisdell to thank. She was first.”
In 1992 the National Flute Association named Frances Blaisdell an honorary life member, and two years later it honored her with its Lifetime Achievement Award.