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Trovillo-Graham Award

George Trovillo and William GrahamGeorge Trovillo
and William Graham in gratitude of their generosity.

Trovillo-Graham Award
is presented to the First-Place Vocal Award Winner
in honor of George Trovillo and Bill Graham
( “How to Learn a Song” by George Trovillo)

George Trovillo and Bill Graham bequeathed their house and a very generous donation to the Musical Merit Foundation of San Diego in 2009. Along with preparing countless San Diegans for the Musical Merit competition, George and Bill were involved in defining the vocal repertoire requirements, promoting Musical Merit and serving on the Board.

Bill Graham, a native San Diegan, performed extensively in New York City where he danced with Martha Graham and her dance company and had a long run as Captain “Big Jim” Warrington in Little Mary Sunshine which opened at the Orpheum theater off-Broadway in 1959 and ran for over a thousand performances.

As one of the select accompanist at Columbia Management, George Trovillo was accompanist and coach to Eileen Farrell, Roberta Peters, James Melton, Cesare Valletti, Jussi Bjoerling, Jan Peerce, Gladys Swarthout and many other stars and appeared in all the most important concert and recital venues in the U.S., toured Canada and performed in Europe. In an article about Trovillo, which appeared in the November 2001, issue of Classical Singer Magazine, Dianne Cawood wrote that:

A farmboy with the usual Midwestern schooling, George Trovillo was encouraged by his mother to study piano. In early childhood, she taught him to read music and saw to it that he received proper piano lessons from a neighboring teacher. The family lived on a farm in Illinois, probably the only farm in its vicinity with a large collection of recordings by the opera singers of the day: Galli-Curci, Caruso, Melba and the like. By playing for singers all through high school, Trovillo developed his natural gift for accompaniment and his feeling for the repertoire. He attended Kansas University, achieved his degree and set his sights for The Juilliard School in New York. From the beginning, it was obvious that accompanying was his special strength, and he was successful at it […] In 1949 Trovillo entered the professional “big time” with a two-year contract with tenor James Melton which included both concerts all across America and appearances in the then-fledgling medium of television, in which Melton was an early believer.

In order to accept this extremely prestigious engagement, Trovillo had to get out of a contract with the young Eileen Farrell, temporarily thwarting what eventually was to become one of the longest and most artistically fruitful associations of both of their long careers. When he and Farrell finally got together in 1951, their association, which lasted until 1966, took them to the world’s great concert halls and left a series of very important art song recordings. During his time with Farrell, in 1954 Trovillo began an association that continued for many years with Roberta Peters, then approaching the height of her tremendous fame. Their association took them to Russia in 1960 for a state-sponsored concert tour that took on historical implications in those days of the cold war.

George recorded many albums with Eileen Farrell, one of which, “Song Recital", was elected to the Classical Recording Industry Hall of Fame in 2003.

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George and Bill moved to San Diego in 1966 where Bill managed properties and worked with performers on their acting skills, while George continued coaching singers and pianists until shortly before his death in 2003. Up until her final vocal retirement, Roberta Peters would regularly come and stay with them while she worked with George to prepare for her upcoming engagements. The carefully kept guest room in the house in Point Loma that was bequeathed to the MMF, was called “the Roberta room,” and was used by far-flung performers who needed a place to stay as they, like Roberta, worked with George on upcoming performance repertoire or had come to San Diego or Los Angeles for performances.

And for all those who benefited from George’s wisdom, support and gentle teaching, along with Bill’s humor and ability to go directly to the truth of the matter, an invitation to breakfast or tea around the kitchen table could combine laughter and gossip with life-clarifying insights.

Past Winners of The Musical Merit Foundation Trovillo-Graham Award