In 1916, Maria Grever set foot in New York City with her two children in tow. She was a Mexican composer whose husband allegedly sent her to the city to escape political turmoil amidst the Mexican Revolution. But Maria Grever wasn’t just any composer. She composed anywhere from 800 to 1,000 songs spanning from the early 1920s until her death in 1951. One of her biggest hits from 1934 was Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado which was translated into English by Stanley Adams as What A Difference A Day Makes, which received a Grammy in 1959 for Best R&B performance by Dinah Washington. She scored for the big movie houses—Paramount, MGM, Fox. She also wrote operas and even a Broadway musical, but many have never heard her name.
All of this information is widely available across the internet, but what we don’t know much about is who Maria Grever was as a person. With her impressive resume, it’s important to remember the period that Maria Grever lived in. This was a time when women were just beginning to access their civil rights—the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was passed in 1920. Maria Grever was not only an immigrant, but a woman alone with two kids in a field dominated by men navigating one of the most expensive and challenging cities across the country. So the fact that Maria Grever has so many accolades to her name, tells you something about the kind of person she was. Yet this is not something that is widely discussed in the history books.
Did Maria Grever in fact leave Mexico for New York City just to escape political turmoil or was there something more? How did she become one of the top composers of her time in New York City? How does someone so famous seem so unknown in today’s digital world? In this episode of Latino USA, we go on a quest to find out everything we can about this prolific composer and what happened to her legacy.
This story is also the first episode of a new Latino USA Genias (“Geniuses”) series remembering notable women in music throughout history. According to data from the Women’s Audio Mission, only 5% of people who work in the production of music, television, news and film are women. “If you can see it, you can be it” is a common saying among women in the music industry. These are the stories of women who have broken barriers and become pioneers in their music fields. Stay with us as we take a look at the life and contributions of one woman musician for the next few months.
Featured image: Public Domain
Maria Grever’s Scrapbook
Maria Grever was covered quite a bit in the media, but a lot of the audio isn’t available today. Here are some radio transcripts and news clippings from a few key moments in her trajectory. This is just a sample — some of which can be recognized from the episode. Enjoy!
New York Tribune
December 15, 1919
A review for a performance Maria Grever gave at the Princess Theater in New York City. It’s one of the earliest mentions of Grever in a newspaper. The review praises the “emotional program,” but also gives constructive notes: “Miss Grever needs more technique and less emotion.”
A transcript for an ad on Horace Heidt’s radio show, where Maria Grever made a guest appearance in March 1938. When Grever self-published her song, Horace Heidt was the one to hear it and play it for the first time on the air. She’s quoted in Radio Guide for the week ending May 21, 1938: “‘Dear Sweet Horace Heidt,’ she said. ‘His name is sacred to me! He did it. He put it over!’” (Courtesy of NYPL NBC Research Clipping Files)
The Cincinnati Enquirer
April 11, 1938
A newspaper interview with Maria Grever where she talks about the creation of her hit “Ti-pi-tin.”
Maria Grever suffered an infection which threatened her eyesight. She became a proponent after that to help and advocate for the blind. (Courtesy of NYPL NBC Research Clipping Files)
Another radio transcript from April 1941 mentions Maria Grever as being “one of the best-known composers living,” and someone who also “considers New York City her second home.” (Courtesy of NYPL NBC Research Clipping Files)
New York Daily News
October 10, 1941
An unfavorable review for the musical comedy “Viva O’Brien,” but with some praise for Maria Grever’s score: “The new and outstanding personality of the production appears to be Maria Grever,” the review states. Producers invested around $80,000 (inflation calculates this about $1.5 million) on the production which closed after several performances.