Hazel Ogg Costa

Mrs. Hazel Ogg Costa will be honored at the 16th annual Central High School Wall of Fame Banquet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, in the commons at Gresham Middle School, 500 Gresham Road. The event will feature a video of the honorees: Mrs. Costa, Conrad L. Majors Jr., Dr. Bob Collier (CHS 1957) and the Rev. Bill Nickle (CHS 1957). Tickets are $25 each and are available at the CHS office and from CHS Alumni and Foundation representatives. Info: R. Larry Smith, 865-922-5433, or Courtney Shea at courtshea@aol.com.

Daniel Ogg migrated to Knox County in 1807 and bought land on Beaver Creek on Emory Road. His brother Peter Ogg soon joined him, married Eliza Dowell in 1822 and built a log house on the Ogg tract. The tract included one of the county’s unique geologic attractions, the Blue Hole, a giant “bottomless” spring that doubles the downstream flow of Beaver Creek.

Peter and Eliza had eight children including our subject’s father, John C. Ogg (1840-1935). He joined several of his neighbors in the long walk to Murfreeboro to join the Union Army early in the Civil War, fought in the Battle of Stone’s River and received a medical discharge.

When John returned home, he again settled on the family farm. He married Leona C. Hall on Aug. 31, 1873, and two families important to north Knox County history were joined – the Oggs and the Halls.

They would become parents to 13 children, including Hazel Armstrong Ogg, who was their ninth child.

Hazel was born on March 17, 1892. She attended grade school in the community but interestingly she was so anxious to attend Central High School that she hitched her horse to a buggy each day and traveled six miles to school regardless of the weather.

The vivacious Hazel Ogg was active in extra-curricular clubs like the Middy Club with their characteristic blouses and in the school’s music program. She was so accomplished that she composed a class song for the Class of 1912 which is printed in the 1912 Sequoyah, the school annual, and was sung during the graduation program.

In 1925, Hazel Ogg married John Thomas Costa (1878-1947), a Tallahassee, Florida, native. Their daughter, Mary, was born on April 5, 1930. John’s graceful Italian movements and his mannerisms were reflected in his daughter’s audition for the role of Princess Aurora in Walt Disney’s animated film, “Sleeping Beauty.” They would later be borrowed by the animators of “Sleeping Beauty” as audiences would see when Mary, as the Princess, dances through the woods in search of her Prince.

At the age of 6, Mary was a beautiful, precocious little girl who sang like an angel. When she sang in a First Baptist Church Christmas pageant, her voice poignantly told the story of the Christ child. Her performance brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. The tears were not lost on the sensitive youngster. She told her mother that she didn’t want to ever sing again “because the audience didn’t like me. They cried.” Radio, film, TV and opera audiences over scores of years and in many foreign countries are so fortunate that Mary Costa changed her mind after her mother consoled her.

The Costa family relocated to Los Angeles after Mary’s first year of high school. She soon won a Music Sorority Award as the outstanding voice among Southern California High School seniors. This led to an opportunity for her to attend the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music where she studied with the famed maestro, Gaston Usigli.

Mary went on to establish a career in opera. Her stellar 1960 performance as Violetta in “La Traviata” in San Francisco would associate her with that most demanding of roles for her entire career. Her starring role in numerous operas opposite Nicolai Gedda, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Richard Tucker and others and her many tours of the U.S. and Europe, including a triumphant tour in Russia, assured her place in the history of the art. Casting in movies like “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Great Waltz” (the life of Johann Strauss Jr.) only added to her fame. She performed 39 roles during her operatic career.

One music editor summed up her qualities, “She has all the qualifications of a great artist –

innate musicality, flawless enunciation and sense of pitch, carefully trained voice of wide range and timbre, secure high or low, versatility of a coloratura or a dramatic soprano (a range of 3 ½ octaves), and the molder of many moods.”

During Mary’s formative years her mother had given her this advice, “Don’t leave a place for anything but love in your heart, and always, always be true to your God-given talent.” Hazel lived her life that way as an outstanding example for her daughter.

Barbara Aston Wash, acclaimed columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel and a lifetime friend of the family who called Hazel Ogg Costa ‘a stage mother in the best sense of the word,’ gave Mary strong moral and emotional support.

Hazel Ogg was a long-time member of the Motion Picture Mothers and was president twice. They met regularly in Beverly Hills where their annual holiday gala was usually held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The gala was their major fund-raiser of the year.

The MPM was founded in 1939 for the mothers of the stars to socialize and fulfill a mission of considerable charity work. The club’s monthly membership luncheons featured professional entertainers and allowed members to share the latest achievements of their own childhood stars. They supported the Motion Picture and Television Fund which operates the Actors Country House in Woodland Hills, California, to care for retired actors. They helped to purchase hospital beds, buy flat screen TVs and a wheelchair-equipped van to take the residents on excursions.

She was an active member of the Beverly Hills Daughters of the American Revolution and observed on her 100th birthday, “I have never missed my time to vote. I love being an American.” She demonstrated her patriotism by serving in the California campaigns of two seeking office as President of the United States.

After 100 years of a life well-lived, Hazen Ogg Costa passed away on March 14, 1992. She is buried in Knoxville, beside the love of her life, John T. Costa.

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Written by Dr. Jim Tumblin