She was one of the greats in classical music recording with her husband, C. Robert Fine. They headed up Mercury Records’ classical production unit in the ’50s and ’60s, creating hundreds of recordings that are still prized by aficionados for their unbelievable sound. She was 82 and died Monday at her home in Harrison, NY.
Like many a Texas gal — think of Anne Richards and Margo Jones — she was one of the first women to excel in an area still dominated by men. She was born in Mississippi but grew up in Fort Worth. In fact, she studied music education and business administration at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) and found a job working as conductor Antal Dorati’s personal secretary when he was music director of the Dallas Symphony.
How important was she? Well, according to this recording hobbyist, she pretty much was Mercury Records. I was hardly a huge collector of classical music LPs, but the complete neophyte that I was, even I owned LPs that I now realize she and her husband must have produced of pianist Sviatoslav Richter, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony. According to the obit, she had to convince Mercury in 1950 to record the Chicago Symphony’s take on “Pictures at an Exhibition” because the CSO was floundering at the time. It was that recording that convinced reviewers that the CSO had returned to its glory days.
Her husband died in 1982. Wilma retired in 1964, but came out of retirement in 1989 to oversee Mercury’s reissue of her recordings on CD.