Ethel Stark

As founder of the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra, Ethel Stark broke down barriers, becoming the first woman to conduct an orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 1947 and welcoming Violet Grant States as the first black woman member of a Canadian symphony orchestra. Stark made a name for herself first as a violin soloist, performing on a Stradivarius both in live concerts and radio broadcasts. She studied at the McGill Conservatory of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music before founding the MWSO in 1940. Because most women trained only on piano or stringed instruments, this required her to train flute, trombone, and tuba players to fill out all the spots. Stark compared the scale of the achievement to building the Empire State Building. She brought Violet States into the orchestra in 1943. Ethel Stark retired as conductor in the 1960s and taught for several years at the Conservatoire de musique du Quebec a Montreal.

Topics: Music
1 Comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Maria Noriega Rachwal's book about Ethel Stark and the MWSO "From Kitchen to Carnegie Hall" will be released October 6, 2015. Violet Grant States is my aunt (my mom's older sister). She was also my first piano teacher. I grew up with the lore around the MWSO and pictures of the orchestra lined the walls of my aunt's music room.

Founder of the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra Ethel Stark at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1941.

Image courtesy of Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec via Wikimedia Commons.

Date of Birth

Montreal QC

Date of Death

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Ethel Stark." (Viewed on August 10, 2020) <>.


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox