Elizabeth Ellen Kelly of Wellfleet died on June 28, 2021 at Cape Cod Hospital after a brief illness. She was 94.
Betty was born on Dec. 5, 1926 to the late Harold and Aimee (Bethel) Wolf. She studied music at Syracuse University, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees before launching a multi-faceted career.
A much admired soloist in New York and on Cape Cod, she taught music at Cape Cod Community College for nearly 30 years. During that time, she was also music director at several churches, most recently the Osterville United Methodist Church.
Carol Sylver, a parishioner of the Federated Church of Orleans when Betty was the choir director there, said her knowledge of sacred music was impressive. “It was a spiritual delight to be in the presence of Betty and her choir every Sunday,” Sylver said.
Betty and her husband, John, co-founded the Provincetown Choral Society, the first such group on the Lower Cape. Over the years, the society awarded music scholarships to many deserving students.
“I attended a performance of the Provincetown Choral Society in the mid-1980s and loved the energy of the group,” said Martha Magane, “so I joined in 1987 and immediately felt like it was where I belonged, because Betty Kelly was so encouraging and accepting. I thought she’d live forever, and, in a way, she will.”
Betty was also the “traveling” music teacher in the Provincetown and Truro schools during the 1970s. She often involved her students, whom she called her “pumpkins and muffins,” in the choral society’s concerts, including their Twelve Days of Christmas “growing” Christmas tree.
Joy Cuming noted Betty’s influence on her son: “He was 10, and it changed the course of his life, because he found a passion for singing and performing that has led him to pursue that path throughout college and into a professional career in New York City.”
Susan Lambert said her “formative years, from 12 to 18, were filled with memories of Betty — her love, her brilliance, her teaching, her example, and her passion for art and community. She changed my life.”
Betty and John Kelly also created the Academy of Performing Arts in Orleans. For many years, they entertained local audiences with productions of Man of La Mancha, The Boyfriend, The Fantasticks, The Merry Widow, and Ahmal and the Night Visitors, among others. They often filled the roles themselves.
Betty’s niece, Victoria James, fondly reflected on her childhood visits with Betty, which “were always filled with glamour and drama.” Years later, Victoria “spent a couple of summers with them, dancing in the ‘corps de ballet’ of their Da Capo Opera Company’s Die Fledermaus, as well as painting sets and learning how to milk their goats.”
Even in her 80s, Betty’s talent and beauty were notable. After the Provincetown Choral Society disbanded, Betty signed on with the Outer Cape Chorale. Jon Arterton, the conductor, said that in 2012, when the chorale did a program of opera highlights, Betty stole the show by singing the “Habanera” from Carmen. With a rose clenched in her teeth at the end, Betty sang as if she were still in her 20s, much to the delight of the audience.
In addition to her husband, John J. Kelly, Betty is survived by her sister, Victoria Vallaincourt and their brother, George Wolf, both of Kokomo, Ind. She is also survived by her nephew Charles Wolf of New York City and several other nieces and nephews.
Betty’s family expressed thanks to the staff at Outer Cape Health and Cape Cod Hospital for their warmth and caring.
A private celebration of Betty’s life will be held at a date still to be set.