Lorraine Dureau Newsham graduated from Loyola University New Orleans in 1955 with a Bachelor of Music. She had become somewhat of a local celebrity, praised for her ability to be both a wife and student, but more importantly for her voice. She was an up and coming opera singer, having performed with Norman Treigle during the 1940s and an active member of NORD (New Orleans Recreation Department), and was accepted to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House after finishing her time at Loyola but was unable to attend after suffering from a broken rib that put her out of work for the opera season.
Devastated by her missed opportunity she sought out other options and was encouraged by Miguel Bernal, the dean of the College of Music at the time, to try her hand in Mexico where the opera scene was growing in popularity and was performing year round. It is not clear by our records the exact time she left, but by 1957 Lorraine was in Mexico, apparently leaving everything behind, including her husband at the time, John Newsham. Her collection is full of photos and articles from her time in Mexico, giving us a picture of what her life was like and all of the people she met and grew close to.
In Mexico she became a star and her music career soared while earning herself a new name in the process, Lorena Dureau. She preferred performing repertoire of her favorite songs rather than complete operas but excelled in both, appearing on stage, radio, and television, all while also furthering her career as a writer.
She wrote articles for many publications around the world both during her time in Mexico and after returning to New Orleans in 1978. She had been writing short stories and poems since she was a little girl and took up the skill again as she led her singing career away from performing and in the direction of teaching and turned to novels. While her first unpublished manuscript was titled By the Sword (date unknown) and written under the pen name Lorry Newman, her first published work was a book titled The Last Casquette Girl (1981), starting her on the trend of romance novels that would follow which included Lynette (1983), Iron Lace (1983), and Beloved Outcast (1987).
After returning to New Orleans she captured the attention of a local businessman by the name of George Lehleitner, famous for his work both in the New Orleans community and his actions in helping both Alaska and Hawaii achieve statehood. George had seen an article about Lorraine that was written by an old family friend and contacted the friend to say that he was interested in meeting this fascinating woman. Persistent in his desire to meet Lorraine she eventually accepted his offer for lunch, starting the beginning of a wonderful relationship as the two were soon married and lived our their lives with each other, traveling to many places together as Lorraine also re-visited Mexico many times.
Interesting cannot even begin to describe this woman as her collection takes you on a wild tale of one woman’s journey through life. From her days at NORD and Loyola to Mexico and opera, writing of romance novels and articles on voodoo, dolls, Mexican culture, and more.
This information is from the Lorraine Dureau collection, which is currently being processed at Loyola University New Orleans in the Special Collections & Archives by students.
Blog Post by Caitlin Page, a Special Collections Student Worker.