Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sinclair, John (1791-1857)

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SINCLAIR, JOHN (1791–1857), vocalist, son of David Sinclair, cotton-spinner, was born in Edinburgh on 9 Dec. 1791. He became a clarionet player in Campbell of Shawfield's regiment, and, going to Aberdeen in that capacity, engaged in music teaching until able to purchase his discharge. Being fond of the stage and having a fine tenor voice, he went to London in search of an engagement, and on 7 Sept. 1810 appeared at the Haymarket Theatre as Cheerly in Shield's ‘Lock and Key.’ After this he became a pupil of Thomas Welsh [q. v.], and was engaged for seven years at Covent Garden, where he created the tenor rôles in Bishop's ‘Guy Mannering’ and the ‘Slave,’ Davy's ‘Rob Roy,’ and other works. He was the first to sing Bishop's ‘Pilgrim of Love,’ and he acquired great popularity in the part of Apollo in ‘Midas.’ With a view to further musical study he went in 1819 to Paris, where he had lessons from Pellegrini, and to Milan, where he was under Banderali at the Conservatoire. In May 1821 he sang to Rossini at Naples, received some instruction from him, and in 1822–3 appeared in opera at Pisa, Bologna, Genoa, Florence, and elsewhere. At Venice Rossini wrote for him the part of Idreno in ‘Semiramide.’ Returning to England with his voice much improved, he reappeared at Covent Garden on 19 Nov. 1823 as Prince Orlando in the ‘Cabinet.’ From 1828 to 1830 he was engaged at the Adelphi and Drury Lane, and after a short visit to America in the latter year, he retired to Margate, where for some years he was director of the Tivoli Gardens. He died at Margate on 23 Sept. 1857. He married, in 1816, a daughter of Captain Norton, and one of his daughters was married to Edwin Forrest, the American tragedian.

Sinclair's voice was a pure tenor, with an unusually fine falsetto, extending to F in alt. His style was, however, somewhat effeminate, and he was known as ‘the leddies' bonnie Sinclair.’ He was one of the earliest exponents of Scottish song after the manner subsequently made popular by David Kennedy [q. v.] As a composer he is remembered for his songs, ‘Come, sit ye doon,’ ‘The bonnie Breast Knots,’ ‘The Mountain Maid,’ ‘Johnny Sands,’ and others in the Scottish style, all of which were very popular and are still sung.

[Dict. of Musicians, 1824; Parke's Musical Memoirs; Life of David Kennedy; Baptie's Musical Scotland; Grove's Dict. of Musicians; Musical Times, November 1857; Parochial Registers of Edinburgh.]

J. C. H.