Martha Baird Rockefeller (March 15, 1895 - January 24, 1971), the second wife and widow of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was a world-class classical pianist in the 1920s, giving concerts across the U.S. and throughout Europe.
Martha Baird was born in Madera, California, the second child of William F. Baird (1861-1916), a coal operator and merchant, and the former Mina A. Smith (1862-1903), a musician. Martha's first public performance was in June 1903, when, at the age of 8, she played "In the Gypsies' Camp" on piano in a concert at the University of Southern California's College of Music, where her mother taught piano and organ. Martha studied with Morton F. Mason, a composer and organist in southern California. She graduated from the Blairsville (Pennsylvania) School for Girls and attended Occidental College in Los Angeles. In 1915 she entered the New England Conservatory of Music. In May 1917 she won the school's annual piano competition, which earned her a $1,200 grand piano as the grand prize. That spring she graduated with highest honors from the school's soloist course.
On November 14, 1917, Martha Baird gave her first public recital at Boston's Jordan Hall. Her performance was well received by the Boston Globe but Philip Hall of theBoston Herald thought that she had "not yet learned to think musically at all times for herself." On March 22, 1920, Martha Baird made her New York debut at the Princess Theater at 104 West 39th Street. On August 4, 1920, she married Adrian van Laar, an importer; they divorced in Paris in 1925. During her marriage, Martha Baird continued to perform under her own name, and on October 5, 1923, "the famous American pianist" made her debut in London at Wigmore Hall.
On May 20, 1930, in the study of Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Martha Baird was married to Arthur M. Allen, a lawyer, of Providence, Rhode Island. Some discussions of her career indicate that she retired from performing after her marriage to Allen, but she did not stop entirely. By the mid-1930s her appearances were concentrated around Boston and Providence, and she devoted more time to the Providence Symphony Orchestra, especially its concerts for young people. In May 1937 she was elected president of the Providence Community Concert Association, serving in that capacity until 1950. In 1940 she wrote the music to accompany Helen Church's lyrics for the Republican party campaign anthem, "We Want Willkie."
Arthur Allen died on May 6, 1950. On August 15, 1951, Martha Baird Allen married John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whose wife Abby had died in 1948. Arthur Allen had been a Brown University classmate and a friend of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., so that Martha Baird had known JDR Jr. for some time. As a wedding present, JDR Jr. gave his bride a trust fund so that she could experience the joy of giving that he had known.
Martha Baird Rockefeller used her new wealth, and the $48 million she inherited upon her husband's death in 1960, to support her chosen field of music as well as causes identified with the Rockefeller family. In 1957, she established the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, a private philanthropy that responded to various needs she saw in the field of music. Incorporated in 1962, the Fund's interest centered on young solo artists, who received support directly through individual grants or indirectly through contributions to performance organizations that offered advanced training and employment in important capacities. Until Mrs. Rockefeller's death in 1971, the Fund was supported by her contributions of $600,000 annually. Her will provided for an unrestricted bequest to the fund of $5,000,000, and the trustees elected to continue the program at the same level until funds were exhausted. The Fund was dissolved in 1982.