CHALIFOUX, ALICE (January 22, 1908 - July 31, 2008) was princicpal harpist with the Cleveland Orchestra from 1931-1974 and for many years was the Orchestra's only female member. Her performing style has been credited with elevating the harp out of its tradition as a quiet, background instrument. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Alice was the youngest of four children of Oliver Chalifoux and Alice Halle Chalifoux. Oliver ran a department store and was a former violinist who atteneded the Paris Conservatory, while her mother played multiple instruments and founded the Birmingham Music Study Clud. At 11, young Alice persuaded her mother to give her lessons on the harp. She continued her studies at a convent school and private high school for girls.
Realizing that her gifted daughter needed a more advanced teacher, Mrs. Chalifoux approached the renowned French composer and harpist Carlos Salzedo. On hearing Alice play, he accepted her as a student at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute, where the naturally lively and vivacious girl quickly embraced her teacher's technique of pulling the strings to effect a vibrant, singing quality.
In the summer of 1930, Chalifoux was invited to join Salzedo at his summer harp school in Maine. (When he died in 1961, Salzedo would bequeath to his most brilliant student both his house and the school, of which she would serve as director until the end of her own career.) And the following year, Nikolai Sokoloff, the first music director of the 13-year-old Cleveland Orchestra, hired Chalifoux as principal harpist. Though eyebrows were raised at the presence of a woman in the ensemble, she retained her position unchallenged under the batons of four successors: Artur Rodzinski, Eric Leinsdorf, George Szell, and Lorin Maazel, until she finally retired in 1974.
Chalifoux married John Gordon Rideout, an industrial designer who devised their Moreland Hills subdivision, in 1937. The couple had a daughter, Alyce Rideout in 1946; however John died in 1951 from complications of hypertension, leaving Alice to balance her life as a pioneering musician and a single mother.
Chalifoux's professional honors include the Cleveland Arts Prize Special Citation for Distinguished Service to the Arts (1986), being named an Artist-Teacher by the American String Teacher Association in 1991, and receiving an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Bowdoin College (1991) and an honorary doctor of musical arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music (1993).
In 1997, she moved to Leesburg, Virginia, to be near her daughter and her son-in-law. In 1998, the Alice Chalifoux Scholarship Fund was established to benefit future generations of harp students at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Alice, eager to share what she had learned, continued to invite harpists to study with her in the beautiful setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The American Harp Society marked Chalifoux's 100th birthday in June 2008 during its national convention in Detroit. She died a month later on July 31 at Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester, Va.