Category Archives: African American Singers

Episode 45. Muriel Smith (Crossover Classics I)



For the first of my Black History Month episodes back in February, I did a program featuring the extraordinary artist Muriel Smith, who in 1943, while still a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, created the title role in Oscar Hammerstein II’s Carmen Jones, which used George Bizet’s opera as the springboard for a hybrid musical featuring an all-Black cast. After several other Broadway appearances (including in a revival of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, Muriel Smith moved to London, where she was featured in the “exotic” roles in the London premieres Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I. For several years she was the toast of London, appearing on records, on radio, on television, and in concert, as well as singing Bizet’s gypsy in performances of Carmen at Covent Garden in 1957. Most of the currently extant examples of Smith’s singing are of popular music, which she performed with her unique blend of bel canto precision and pinpoint interpretive accuracy. I have recently gotten my hands on numerous rare 78s of Smith’s mid-1950’s pop records, as well as her 1953 EP, I’m in the Mood for Love, all of which are featured on this episode. I also share examples of her famous turns in musicals, capped with a rare recording of her singing Hugo Wolf’s “Nimmersatte Liebe.” Two excerpts from her 1955 Songs of Christmas 45 render this episode a veritable Christmas in July celebration! Musical guest stars include, among others, Marc Blitzstein, Georges Auric, Harvey Fuqua, Auyar Hosseini, Franz Waxman, Luther Saxon, Martin and Blane, Julian Bream, and the extraordinary Angela Morley.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 44. Gl’amour, Part Deux: The Invaders



Aux armes, citoyens! We have received advance warning that an army of foreigners masking as French speakers are storming the artistic gates, so to speak, and attempting to usurp France’s national artistic identity. Strangely, many of the invaders are operatic tenors, though they are accompanied by a coterie of vivandières singing popular music, all in French, no matter what their native tongues. Last week’s celebration of French glamour is today compromised, sullied, and usurped by all manner of unwelcome albeit glamorous guests, led by the New Zealander Frances Alda and buttressed by the American Eleanor Steber, fresh from celebrating her birthday this past week. Some of these figures masquerade more convincingly as actual French persons, but make no mistake, whether they be deceptive Canadians (Léopold Simoneau, Raoul Jobin, Richard Verreau), interloping Belgians (André d’Arkor), unwelcome Italians (the shocking Franco Corelli, the mysterious Dalida, and the dreaded Mirella Freni), subsersive Spaniards (Miguel Villabella, Alfredo Kraus, Tony Poncet) bullying Brazilians (Elis Regina), sneaky Swedes (Nicolai Gedda), denizens of the dreaded United Kingdom (Stuart Burrows, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Annie Lennox), Germans of nefarious intent (Marlene Dietrich, Daniel Behle), questionable Australians (Albert Lance, traveling incognito), suspicious Russians (Joseph Rogatchewsky), or worst of all, Americans intent on conquest (Barbara Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Barbra Streisand, Muriel Smith, and even the spotlight-stealing Daniel Gundlach), these characters are all intent on destroying France’s language and music and must be thwarted at all costs, no matter how appealing their songs might appear to be. Finally, following the heroic actions of Georges Thill, France re-asserts her right to her own repertoire. But it seems that the damage has been done, for Natalie Dessay, Françoise Hardy, and even the formerly trustworthy Hugues Aufray, now seem only interested in singing American pop songs, albeit in French. All in all, an episode packed with intrigue, deception, and glorious singing!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 43. Gl’amour I (Bastille Day 2020)



Another nation, la belle France, has a birthday right around the corner, and today I hoist the Tricolore to celebrate La Fête Nationale. I had planned this episode several weeks ago but when the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter protests began, I felt the need to respond in kind with two episodes featuring music of protest and hope. Today I present the first of two consecutive episodes on French Glamour, for after all, who does Glamour better than the French? I also consider the manner in which exoticism and imperialism make an appearance in French opera in particular. I present a veritable mad rush of great French singers, all possessed of personal poise and vocal appeal. Singers range from such classical artists as Mady Mesplé (whose recent passing we belatedly acknowledge), Régine Crespin, Janine Micheau, Germaine Cernay, Emma Calvé, Renée Doria, Jennie Tourel, Denise Duval, Andrée Esposito, Germaine Féraldy, Françoise Pollet (as well as exemplary Belgian sopranos Emma Luart and Fanny Heldy) to pop singers Joséphine Baker (French by adoption!), and Maurice Chevalier. We allow such non-French interlopers as Geraldine Farrar, Giuseppe di Stefano, Grace Bumbry, Mary Lewis, Teresa Żylis-Gara, Lisette Oropesa, and my beloved Shirley Verrett, many of whom also lived extensively in France, to make their contributions in song to this celebration. And who better than the late Jessye Norman to cap the episode with her rousing rendition of La Marseillaise, as she did in 1989 for the French Bicentennial?

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 40. Sisters in Sappho [Queer Pride I]



The first of my two Queer Pride episodes is devoted to a group of pioneering lesbians in the 1970s and beyond, in both classical and pop music. Two iconic mezzo-sopranos whose careers began in the 1960s and extended through the 1990s are the Greek-American Tatiana Troyanos and Brigitte Fassbaender, daughter of the German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender. I explore the similarities and differences in the repertoire and career paths of these two unique artists, and share examples of them singing repertoire from Handel to Weill, Scarlatti to Penderecki, with particular focus on Fassbaender’s Lieder performances and Troyanos’s work in bel canto. Then I turn to key figures in the Women’s Music Movement of the 1970s, including Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, Margie Adam, Holly Near, and Deidre McCalla, while also paying tribute to those who, in turn, paved the way for them, including Janis Ian, Dusty Springfield, and Ronnie Gilbert. We also acknowledge the work of queer African American singers, including Deidre McCalla, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Toshi Reagon. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these extraordinary artists, who created a world of possibility for their musical and artistic descendants, at the same time setting standards that will stand the test of time. Vocal guest stars include Janet Baker, Ileana Cotrubas, Margaret Price, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Arleen Augér, Cecilia Gasdia, and Reri Grist.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 38. Something in the Air



This week I continue our exploration of the movement for social justice as expressed in song. This constitutes not just the fight in the United States for racial and class equity but also the worldwide struggle against imperialism, focusing in particular on African and South American singing freedom fighters, including Miriam Makeba, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Letta Mbulu, Mercedes Sosa, Milton Nascimento, and Víctor Jara. Other artists heard include Marvin Gaye, Leontyne Price, Nanci Griffith, Frederica von Stade, Nina Simone, David Crosby, Pete Seeger, Marin Mazzie, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jefferson Airplane, Sam Cooke, Joséphine Baker, Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman, Thunderclap Newman (whose song lends the episode its title), Harry Belafonte, Dawn Upshaw, Phil Ochs, Rosemary Clooney, Curtis Mayfield, and Mahalia Jackson, as well as number of present-day troubadors. Composers represented include Kurt Weill, Duke Ellington, John Adams, Silvio Rodríguez, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Stephen Foster, Violeta Parra, Flaherty and Ahrens, Ary Barroso, and Caiphus Semenya. I address the spectrum of emotions that persons of conscience are experiencing right now, including despair, rage, anger, struggle, ending with faith, hope, and resolve. Don’t miss this episode!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 37. No More Slavery Chains



I woke up this morning intending to produce an episode on French Glamour. Because I had been keeping my head in the sand over the past several days, I was not aware how the situation in Minneapolis had escalated since the last time I had checked in. I quickly realized that I could not in good conscience proceed as if this catastrophe wasn’t happening. On the other hand, I defer to those on the front lines to speak of their own experience and truth. I offer solidarity with those who rage and mourn, and a program of protest songs ranging over the course of the early twentieth century to the present day. We hear from a wide range of singers, from Donny Hathaway, Micki Grant, Pete Seeger, Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, to Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Paul Robeson, and Marlene Dietrich. If you don’t want to hear a political program, for goddess’s sake, keep away, but if you do want to be infuriated, engaged, and uplifted, please listen in.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 36. Glamour



The Oxford English Dictionary defines “glamour” as “magic; enchantment; spell” and “a magical or fictitious beauty attaching to any person or object; a delusive or alluring charm.” Further down in the entry are “charm; attractiveness; physical allure,” certainly the definition we most closely associate with the term. And yet, it’s fascinating to examine the concept of glamour from its spellbinding origins. In the first of my episodes on Glamour, I examine many singers both from the spell-binding sense of the term and the sense of vocal and personal allure. Among others, I examine such varied singers as Alice Faye, Eleanor Steber, Annie Lennox, Carol Neblett, Betty Carter, Diahann Carroll, Teresa Żylis-Gara, Liane Augustin, Dorothy Kirsten, Florence Quartararo, Hana Janků, Helen Traubel, Hilde Güden, Kiri Te Kanawa, Leontyne Price, Lisa Kirk, Lotte Lehmann, Anna Moffo, Maria Nemeth, Montserrat Caballé, Rosa Ponselle, Zarah Leander, and The Incomparable Hildegarde with an eye to what makes their work glamourous in all senses of the term. And the gentlemen are by no means excluded: I spend particular time on the seductive and dulcet tenor tones of Fritz Wunderlich, José Carreras, Karl Friedrich, and Miguel Fleta.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 35. Charm: A Second Helping



Last week we had such an overflowing of vocal, artistic, and personal charm that I was compelled to produce a second episode on the subject with a fresh batch of charmers. We begin the episode with a tribute to Gabriel Bacquier, the iconic French (bass-)baritone who died this past week just four days short of his 96th birthday. I feature him in three rare selections that represent him in repertoire which is a far cry from his operatic roles. I then resume the survey of charm as demonstrated by artists as varied as Conchita Supervia, Joséphine Baker, Hilde Güden, Ella Fitzgerald, Yvonne Printemps, John McCormack, Lois Marshall, Charles Trenet, Lucrezia Bori, Lily Pons, Hermann Prey, Dusolina Giannini, Tito Schipa, Richard Tauber, Julie Andrews, Julius Patzak, Maria Kurenko, Judith Blegen, Danny Kaye, Marta Eggerth, Elisabeth Schumann, Fritzi Massary, Maxine Sullivan, Magda Kalmár, Ella Logan, Dorothy Warenskjold, Aksel Schiøtz, Erich Kunz, and Lucia Popp. Repertoire ranges from operetta (including Franz Lehár in three different languages), folk song arrangements, musicals, art song, pop music, and children’s songs. Amazingly, opera is nowhere to be seen in this episode, but that will certainly change in the next week, when we take up consideration of Charm’s cousin, Glamour.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 34. Charm (Artistic Heartbeat I)



I have planned a series on five different artistic traits that guide a singer through their artistic journey. The designations are my own, and as such, purely idiosyncratic. Charm is defined as “the power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration.” In this episode, we examine singers of many genres singing music from many lands. Featured artists include Bidú Sayão, Carlos Gardel, Mary Martin, Régine Crespin, Richard Lewis, Victoria de los Angeles, Eileen Farrell, Ezio Pinza, Patachou, Judy Holliday, Hugues Cuenod, Elisabeth Welch, Ninon Vallin, Richard Dyer-Bennett, Jorma Hynninen, Susannah McCorkle, Barbara Cook, Ninon Vallin, Teresa Berganza, Yvette Guilbert, and many others. Because there is so much charm and enchantment in the world, the episode threatened to stretch to an untenable length, I will present additional examples of Charm in the next episode. I also pay tribute to the Lebanese-American mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias, who died a week ago at the age of 90.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 33. Florence Quivar (Mezzo Madness IV)



Today I am thrilled and proud to present the superlative American mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar in a selection from her 1990 recording of spirituals. I am not the only person out there who thinks that her work here represents the pinnacle in the performance of African American spirituals as well as a high point in her singing career. I also feature live recordings of the artist in recital and in opera. And just when you least expect it, a certain gay icon pops in to offer some relevant and valuable musical commentary. Also included are brief tributes to two artists: the pop singer India Adams, who died on 25 April at the age of 93 and who provided the ghost voice for iconic performances by Cyd Charisse and Joan Crawford; and the Greek soprano Jeannette Pilou, who left an indelible mark in the 1970s with her performances around the globe of French opera in particular, and who died on 28 April at the age of 83.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glories of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.