James K. Guthrie

James Kelley Guthrie was born on March 11, 1914 to James A. Guthrie, publisher of the San Bernardino Sun. In 1929, at 15, he began his musical career and formed an orchestra of 60 professional, amateur and retired musicians from the San Bernardino community and the Los Angeles area to form the San Bernardino Community Orchestra, today known as the San Bernardino Symphony. 

His road toward the conductor’s podium was solidified when he introduced himself to Dr. Alfred Hertz, conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and founder of the summer concert series at the Hollywood Bowl. Dr. Hertz became Guthrie’s advisor, teacher and mentor. At 17, Guthrie conducted his first opera, “Don Pasquale,” with the Riverside Opera Company. That same year he also became the music director for the community orchestra he’d founded two years before.

Maestro Guthrie attended the University of Redlands and expanded his training with Maestros Cimini and Berezowski. At age 22, he became the youngest conductor in the United States as the chief conductor of the Hollywood Grand Opera Association and conducted its first performance of Verdi’s “Aida” before an audience of 5,000 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. After this performance he gained national attention in the press and on the pages of Life and Time magazines as “the youngest full-fledged symphony conductor in the U.S.” 

Maestro Guthrie’s musical career flowed in tandem with his life as a newspaperman and publisher. From 1964 to 1969 he was the owner and publisher of the San Bernardino Sun. He also served as a special deputy with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office from 1931 until 1996, the year he died. In this role he was instrumental in improving the education opportunities and living conditions for the inmates.

The board, staff and volunteers of the Guthrie Music Rental Library are grateful for the example and the resources made available through the generosity, leadership and foresight of Maestro Guthrie and his family.

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