Music History

Jenny Lind, the Taylor Swift of the 1850s

Jenny Lind

The has a great article on the disparity in income between the top 1% of 1% of  superstar musicians and the rest of the rabble. It turns out we may have been working on some faulty assumptions about this being a modern thing.

[A]re the big incomes of music superstars something new? Well, let’s look at someone for whom we have pretty good numbers: Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish-born soprano, who toured America from 1850 to 1852.

Tickets at Lind’s first concert sold for an average of about $6, which seems to have been more or less typical during the tour. Adjusting for inflation, that’s the equivalent of around $180 today, which isn’t too shabby. But you also want to bear in mind that real incomes and wages were much lower, so that these were actually huge ticket prices relative to typical incomes.

Overall, Lind was paid about $350,000 for 93 concerts, or a bit less than $4,000 a concert. This was the equivalent of around $2 million a concert today. In other words, to a first approximation, Jenny Lind equals Taylor Swift. And this was in an era not only without recordings, but without amplification, so that the size of audiences was limited by the acoustics of the halls and the projection of the performer’s voice.

There’s much more to this article, especially in the area of how technology has affected the so-called “superstar effect.”


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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One thought on “Jenny Lind, the Taylor Swift of the 1850s

  • This effect holds true in the acting field as well.

    Contrary to the myths that grew up around him as a “failed actor” after the assassination of Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth earned an average $20,000 per year for the last years of the 1850s early 1860s in which he performed.

    (Doesn’t sound like much? That’s approximately $600,000 dollars when adjusted by the same factor as used in this article. That’s right… $600,000 a YEAR. For a theater actor!

    But did it all come from acting?

    Another fact someone once related to me, one that most Americans are now unaware of (or wish to forget) is that prior to his swift fall from grace, John Wilkes Booth was arguably the most popular rising stage actor of his day. So much so that in many houses across America, where IF there was a portrait hanging on a wall it was most likely of George Washington (yes, apparently he was bigger than Jesus long before the Beatles).

    But IF there was a second picture on the wall, it was very likely to be of John Wilkes Booth.
    Many of these were burned and deliberately forgotten after Lincoln’s death. But when they were sold, many of them one presumes after performances and perhaps signed by John Wilkes himself… one wonders what percentage of THAT merchandising technology Booth himself shared in? And how many “pirated images” were sold of him from which he never received a penny?



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