At the turn of the twentieth century, Adella Prentiss Hughes, musical organizer and pioneer, sought to change the music scene in her hometown of Cleveland. She took a music degree that she earned from Vassar College in 1890, and went on a grand tour of Europe. The focus of her trip? To study international music. She spent her time well, by networking with a number of world famous conductors. By the time she returned to America in 1891, she had made a name for herself as a professional accompanist and soloist, yet she wanted a change. She found her true passion in the art of promotion. She especially loved promoting Cleveland's thriving musical performances.
By 1901, Adella was a fixture in the Cleveland music scene. Being extremely motivated, fashion forward, and equipped with a brilliant mind, she regularly booked outdoor performances. Her favorite venue was Grays Armory. She ultimately wanted to gain enough public interest to fund a permanent Cleveland Orchestra. Over the next 15 years, Hughes kept a steady stream of operas, symphonies, ballets and orchestras playing at Grays Armory. She finally had the idea for the Musical Arts Association in 1915, and just three years later, the Cleveland Orchestra was created. The Orchestra was musically anchored by Russian conductor Nikolai Sokoloff and financially led by a dedicated following of businessmen and professionals.
The orchestra was such a hit that it needed to have its own concert space. Under Hughes's direction, the funding for Severance Hall began in 1930. She was able to secure over five million dollars in public donations, and nearly three million dollars from John Long Severance. Hughes was so successful in raising money for the construction of the building that she had money left over. So much so that when construction was completed they had money left over to begin an endowment earmarked for the maintenance of the building. The completion of Severance Hall and the creation of the Cleveland Orchestra marked the fulfillment of two lifelong dreams for Hughes. Her love for music, along with her determination, helped bring these dreams to fruition.