Emma Lucy Gates Bowen was born in St. George, Utah, 5 November 1882. She was the daughter of Jacob F. and Susa Young Gates and the granddaughter of Brigham and Lucy Bigelow Young. Although she displayed an early musical precocity, she did not study music until she was twelve, at which time she began taking both piano and violin lessons. At age fourteen she became the youngest winner in the piano competition of the Welsh Eisteddfod, held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
In 1898 she traveled to Goettingen, Germany, to study piano but transferred to vocal study, her first musical interest. "My whole soul seems to be brought out when I sing," she wrote at the time. She was accepted by the Berlin Conservatory in 1899, but after a year she left to concentrate on vocal studies with Blanche Corelli. She returned to the United States in 1901 and spent the next six years studying voice and opera in New York and concertizing in Utah to earn money for her training.
In 1907 she resumed her studies in Germany with Madame Corelli and in 1909 received a contract with the Royal Opera of Berlin. After two years she accepted a position as prima coloratura soprano at the Kassel Royal Opera, soon becoming a popular European opera and concert artist, singing in the major cities of Europe.
When World War I interrupted her European career, she worked to establish a reputation in the United States, concertizing widely despite a depressed artistic market. With offers from both the Metropolitan and Chicago Opera companies, she chose Chicago, which promised her prima coloratura roles. In 1915 she established her own opera company with her brother B. Cecil Gates, staging seven operas in the next few years. She also began a highly successful recording career with Columbia Records. She continued concertizing and performing with a variety of opera companies and symphonies throughout the United States and Canada until 1934, when her husband, Albert E. Bowen, whom she had married in 1916, was appointed a general authority of the LDS Church. She spent the rest of her life teaching and promoting music in her native Utah and throughout the West.
"Miss Gates is the equal of the greatest prima donnas this country has produced," wrote one critic. Often compared to Galli-Curci, the reigning prima donna of opera, she was praised for her "flawless agility," "purity of intonation," and "dazzling style," all demonstrating a "lyric charm and sensuous beauty of tone." Critics also praised her beauty, her stage presence, and her natural theatrical ability. Music was a universal experience, she believed. "We are part of music and music is part of us," she wrote. "Not all feel and sense this to the highest, yet all are touched by it as we pass this life." Her final performance was in 1948 at a testimonial in her honor. She died 30 April 1951 amid much acclaim and honor.
Carol Cornwall Madsen