Born in St. Louis, Missouri on August 11, 1917, Samuel H. Mayes became a well-known American cellist. One of his grandfathers was a Cherokee chief. Two counties in Oklahoma were named after his ancestors, Rogers County and Mayes County. He was related to the famous American humorist Will Rogers.
Samuel H. Mayes began cello lessons at the age of four with Max Steindel, principal cellist with the St. Louis Symphony. Mrs. Mayes wrote, "He was very important in Sammy Mayes' early development so that he came to Curtis at 12 years with an already enviable technique. Max was a frequent visitor in the Mayes' household because he gave many recitals with Sammy's mother, an excellent pianist. And it was because four-year old Sammy seemed so entranced with Max, that it was decided he must love to play the cello. Actually he later claimed he was fascinated with Max, not the cello." Mayes progressed quickly, and made his debut with the St. Louis Symphony only four years later. By the time he was twelve years of age he had become a student of cellist Felix Salmond at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
While still in his teen years he began playing as a section cellist in the Philadelphia Orchestra. He graduated from the Curtis Institute in 1937, and in 1938 was asked to become principal cellist of the PSO, under the baton of Leopold Stowkowski, where he stayed for ten years.
In 1948 Koussevitsky called Mayes to be the principal cellist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While in Boston he taught cello at Boston University, and played chamber music with Joseph Silverstein, Joseph de Pasquale, the Boston Chamber Players and the Zimbler Sinfonietta. It was also in Boston that he married Winifred Schaefer, who had been the first woman to ever play in a BSO string section.
Mayes remained in Boston until 1965, when he was persuaded by Eugene Ormandy to return to the Philadelphia Orchestra. There, he and his wife Winifred played side-by-side as principal and co-principal cellists.
He was a well-known cello teacher, and taught at a number of famous music schools: the New England Conservatory, Hartt College, Interlochen, the Philadelphia Music Academy and Temple University. When Maye's health began to decline he moved to the Eastman School of Music, and then to a position with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He stayed in Los Angeles for only one year (1974/1975), and then moved to the state of Michigan, where he continued to teach at Michigan University.
Mayes officially retired in 1984, at the age of 67; however he sometimes performed as principal cellist of the Aspen Festival Orchestra and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. In 1987 he was honored at the Eva Janzer Memorial Cello Center in Bloomington, Indiana, with the Chevalier du violoncelle award for his lifetime contribution to the cause of cello playing. In 1988 he still found energy to tour Europe again with his beloved Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Samuel and Winifred Mayes
This photo of Sammy & Winnie, as their friends call them, is from the American Cello Congress in Tempe, AZ. It was taken by cellist Jerry Kessler of the Los Angeles "I Cellisti Cello Ensemble". This photo was taken only a few months before Sammy died.
On August 24, 1990, he passed away in Meza, Arizona. On August 26 the Boston Symphony Orchestra dedicated a performance of Berlioz' Requiem to him.
For most of his performing career, Mayes played a 1728 Mateo Gofriller cello, which is now owned by cellist Timothy Eddy. Near the end of his career he obtained a Montagnana, which is now owned by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Mayes gave the American premiere of the Kabelevsky Concerto, with Kabelevsky conducting. He recorded both Haydn concertos, Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante and Strauss' Don Quixote, and Faure's Elegy. Mayes played with a beautiful tone, ingratiating style and brilliant technique. He was considered to be one of the world's finer solo cellists.
The above photo is donated by cellist Barbara Hedlund, who writes, "The photo of me, my son Alex, Sammy, and pianist Lydia Artymiw was taken in 1990 after our performance of the Brahms B Flat Piano Concerto with the Illinois Symphony in Springfield. It is a particular favorite for me because..... When Lydia and I were students together in Phila. in the early 70's, due to the generosity of Sammy Mayes, we attended a pension fund benefit concert for the Phila Orch. Arthur Rubinstein performed two piano concerti that night. Lydia and I were poor students in those days and really wanted to attend but couldn't afford the tickets. Thanks to Sammy's generosity (or connections?), we sat in a box over hanging the stage thoroughly enjoying the performance and dreaming about our musical futures. We both swore someday we'd play that concerto together. Fortunately that time came in 1990. I was able to return the favor and brought Sammy from Arizona for the performance. He not only honored us with his presence at the concert, but he stayed that week giving master classes at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington (where I used to teach) and at the University of Illinois in Urbana. Many students benefitted from his coachings but none more than I. I had several invaluable coachings on the solo part with him that week and managed to be successful in it's rendition at the performance. With his rich history of performing and recording the concerto numerous times with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony, his advice gave me great confidance that all would go well. That memory in particular will always be prominent in my memory bank along with many others-- including his help when I first performed "Don Quixote" in 1986. The four years that I worked with Sam and Winnie from 1970-74 plus their continuing friendship and support to this day made a profoundly positive effect on my musical development for which I will always be grateful."