Left: the portrait of Mildred Milligan was done by Patricia John’s mother, Grace Spaulding. Spaulding was a well-known muralist and did a WPA (Work Projects Administration: the former 1935-1943 federal agency) mural in Lanie Middle School. This portrait was on the was in Mil’s harp studio on Sage road, where Galleria 2 is now located. Courtesy of Mary Jane Sinclair.
Mildred Milligan was born in Indiana on August 14, 1893. Later, her parents, Frank and Maud, and brother, Jimmy, moved from Indiana to Franklinton, Louisiana. Frank Milligan was a real estate salesman. Mil attended a girl’s finishing school, Ward Belmont, in Tennessee. This is probably where she began playing the harp. She and her family moved to Houston in 1920. She opened a harp studio on Caroline Street. In 1929, she played on the luxury liner, the USS De La Salle Transatlantique to Europe.
She studied with Marcel Grandjany in Paris. Mil wrote a series of articles for the Houston Press detailing her Paris adventures.
Mil’s harp ensemble played for all types of social events. Mil cabled the White House and offered their services for Franklin Roosevelt’s first inauguration ball in 1933. She and her students raised the monies for travel and departed for Washington from Houston’s Union Station. Also, she played for the king of Hollywood, Clark Gable, in the home of his wife, Houston socialite, Ria Langham Gable, at her daughter’s wedding. Mil’s ensemble of twelve harpists performed live on Rudy Valee’s NBC radio show from The Scottish Rite Cathedral on July 9, 1936.
Mil turned her efforts toward developing the orchestra program in the public schools. Mil worked with Victor Alessandro and Dorothy Hughes who were directors of Music Education in HISD. Along with Beryl Pierce, Mil developed the Houston Youth Orchestra. In the 1940’s, Mil traveled by bus to teach in Bryan-College Station. Her ensemble played in the homes of Houston mayor, Oscar Holcolmb, Margaret Kinkaid and James Baker, senior. Mil’s studio was also visited by famed harpist, Robert Maxwell. Mil chartered the San Jacinto Chapter, of the American Harp Society in the early 1960’s. By 1972, Mil lived at 2621 Sage Road which is now the Galleria 2. Mil continued teaching her fifth generation of harpists until she moved to a student’s home in Warrenton as her house was now purchased by Gerald Hines for the newest addition to the Galleria.
She continued to travel to Houston, teaching at Cynthia Cooper’s home until 1976. Mildred Milligan passed away on April 4, 1986 at the age of 92. To honor their beloved teacher, Mil’s former students, Mary Jane SInclair, Virginia Robbins, Patricia John and Cynthia Cooper established the charter for the Mildred Milligan Scholarship Competition. The first competition took place in 1988. Mildred Milligan taught five generations of harpists. She was the first person to offer harp lessons and arrange harp performances in Houston. Mil’s harp continues to play on in the hearts of her students and the recipients of the Mildred Milligan Scholarship Award.
Information on the scholarship competition can be found here: https://houstonharpists.com/milligan-competition/
Mary Jane SInclair
September 9, 2021