Category Archives: African American Singers

Episode 70. Paul Robeson: Ballad of an American



January 23 is the 45th anniversary of the death of Paul Robeson, who remains one of the most celebrated, and controversial, of all artists. A man of fierce intelligence and convictions, he was naturally gifted in a number of different media. Today I will focus on his accomplishments as a singer, but within the context of his political activism and activities on behalf of oppressed people the world over. He was vilified and hunted as much (if not more) than he was revered and celebrated. In this episode I remember some of his most famous performances and recordings, focusing on his performances of African American spirituals and protest songs, folk songs from around the world, including Russia and China, and works that celebrated the brand of left-wing populism that was in vogue in the 1930s and 1940s, focusing in particular on his recording of the hybrid work, Ballad for Americans, by composer Earl Robinson and lyricist John LaTouche. As the United States faces the potential of a better future that could be offset by violence and divisiveness, let us remember the life and career of a truly great American who paid an enormous price for his convictions, but created the potential context for a better, more just world and country.

Previous episodes that included music by Paul Robeson:

Episode 37 (No More Slavery Chains). www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-37-no-more-slavery-chains

Episode 55 (Season Two Teaser): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-55-season-two-teaser

Episode 65 (The Year 1935): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-65-1935-hb2u-mommie-dearest

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. 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 including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 69. Voiceless Wonders: An Introduction



Some of the greatest singers in history are not necessarily the most vocally-gifted. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of episodes devoted to such artists. I consider singers across many genres: recitalists (Pierre Bernac, Madeleine Grey, Povla Frijsh, Jane Bathori), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Noël Coward, Julie Wilson, Barbara, Lotte Lenya), musicals (Fred and Adele Astaire, Chita Rivera), pop music (Bob Dylan, Lou Reed), jazz (Billie Holiday, Alberta Hunter), actors (Audrey Hepburn, Melina Mercouri, Judi Dench, Hildegard Knef, Divine), and even comedians (Dody Goodman, Bourvil), with special focus on a few of the voiceless tenors who hold a special place in my heart (Hugues Cuenod, Karl Erb, Helmut Krebs, Julius Patzak). At the end, I feature two aging icons (Marlene Dietrich and Joséphine Baker) in unforgettable live performances of two protest songs that are painfully relevant at this moment in time. Composers include Alec Wilder, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Franz Schubert, Stephen Sondheim, Francis Poulenc, Abel Meeropol, Claude Debussy, Kander and Ebb, Pete Seeger, Carl Orff, Manos Hadzidakis, Fats Waller, Maurice Ravel, and Rudolf Sieczyński. Please join me for this very special episode. But prepare yourselves for an emotional wallop.

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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 including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 67. Good Bye 2020 (and Good Riddance!)



Is there anyone out there who will not be relieved to bid farewell to 2020, this annus horribilis? I know I’ll be delighted to kick its ass out the door. How to make any sense of this year of pandemic, panic, political shenanigans, poverty, racial injustice, climate disaster and general global upheaval? I have no answers, except to return to music. The episode begins with a mini-tribute to Broadway great Rebecca Luker, who lost her hard-fought against ALS on December 23rd. Then I return to the year 1935, since, as I discovered as I was preparing my mom’s birthday episode a couple weeks ago, so many interesting musicians were born in that year. Some of those artists are still with us, others died some time ago, while still others were among the many casualties of 2020. I take a journey through the composers (Arvo Pärt, Aulis Sallinen, Nicholas Maw, Peter Schat, Josep Soler, Giya Kancheli, and Peter Schickele [aka P.D.Q. Bach]) and singers (Helga Pilarczyk, Sherrill Milnes, Dominic Cossa, Arlene Saunders, Albert Remedios, and Teresa Berganza) born in that year, and conclude with those beloved artists Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti (both of whom were also born in 1935) in an extended excerpt from a live 1975 performance of La bohème, that exemplifies near-perfection, operatically speaking. Let’s “tak a cup o’ kindness yet” at the passing of this challenging year as we also look forward to a new year better in every imaginable way than its predecessor!

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.

Links to related Countermelody episodes:

Episode 64: Jorma Hynninen in Opera (Features the baritone in several operas by Aulis Sallinen): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-64-jorma-hynninen-in-opera

Two episodes in memory of Mirella Freni:

Episode 25: Freni on the Fringe (Freni sings unexpected repertoire): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-25-freni-on-the-fringe-mirella-in-memoriam-ii

Episode 24: Freni in Duet (Freni with various distinguished partners): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-24-freni-in-duet

And three episodes devoted to great artists that we have lost recently:

Episode 59: In Memoriam Rosanna Carteri: www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-59-rosanna-carteri

Bonus Episode 5: In Memoriam Christiane Eda-Pierre (available to my Patreon subscribers at any level of support): www.patreon.com/posts/42459803

Episode 15: Hail and Farewell (a tribute to all the great musicians who died in 2019): www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-15-hail-and-farewell

 


Episode 66. Christmas (Art) Songs



In preparation for the upcoming holiday, this week I offer a cross-section of art songs and arrangements of folk songs, not only from Germany, which is the epicenter of the Christmas Lied, but also France, Norway, the United States, Finland, England, and Spain The performers, recorded between 1927 and 2010, include Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Régine Crespin, Hermann Prey, Claudia Muzio, Elly Ameling, Marian Anderson, Ian Partridge, Karl Erb, Wolfgang Anheisser, Jan DeGaetani, Jorma Hynninen, Bernarda Fink, Olaf Bär, Susan Dunn, Kathleen Ferrier, and Bernard Kruysen, among many others, in songs by composers including, in part, Johannes Brahms, Joaquín Nin, Hugo Wolf, Peter Warlock, Claude Debussy, Charles Ives, and Paul Hindemith. The episode features several performances by my teacher, the esteemed accompanist John Wustman, who on Christmas Day celebrates his 90th birthday.

Links to my 2019 Christmas episodes:

Episode 13: Christmas with the Tenors (including everyone from Fritz Wunderlich to Georges Thill to Roland Hayes): www:countermelodypodcast.com/episode-13-christmas-with-the-tenors

Episode 14: Christmas Potpourri (including my choices for the six most depressing pop Christmas songs ever!):  www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-14-christmas-potpourri-ii-hard-try

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.


Episode 65: 1935 (HB2U, Mommie Dearest!)



This coming Saturday, December 19, is an important day for my family: it’s my mother Jane’s 85th birthday. To pay tribute to this event, and to this very special woman, I’m presenting a program focusing on the year 1935, and important milestones in film, musicals, and the hit parade. There was such a dizzying variety of musical material in this year that it was challenging to organize, but I focus on young artists who were just entering the scene (Judy Garland, Carmen Miranda, and Édith Piaf) to émigrés to and from America (including Marlene Dietrich, Paul Robeson, Joséphine Baker, Kurt Weill, Elisabeth Welch, and Erich Korngold), to Broadway shows that debuted in that year (in performances by, among others, Ethel Merman, Libby Holman, and Nat King Cole). Along the way I pay particular focus to what was, in retrospect, the most important Broadway event of the year, the premiere of Porgy and Bess. From that show, I present performances by Todd Duncan, Anne Brown, and Ruby Elzy, all of whom created their roles. I also examine the “Latin” influence on US culture from artists like Xavier Cugat, Carlos Gardel, and Miranda, and of the enormous cultural impact (in spite of repression and discrimination) that African American artists were making (Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Alberta Hunter, Fats Wallter, and Adelaide Hall.) Finally I look at musicians who were also born in 1935 who made their mark in subsequent decades in a wide variety of styles (including Johnny Mathis, Julie Andrews, Diahann Carroll, Elvis Presley, Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer, and Jerry Orbach). This is not to forget figures ranging from Ruth Etting to Grace Moore to Fred Astaire to Patsy Montana to Allan Jones to Noël Coward to Benny Goodman to Lucienne Boyer to the Comedian Harmonists to Bette Davis. Please join me in celebrating all these artists, and in wishing my mother a very Happy Birthday!

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.


Episode 60. The Bach Aria Group (Full-Figured Baroque I)



Today’s episode, dedicated to historical performances of Johann Sebastian Bach, is the first in an ongoing series I have dubbed “Full-Figured Baroque.” It begins with a bang with the great Canadian soprano Lois Marshall rocketing her way through the opening salvos of “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” an apt way to celebrate the US election outcome after a week of even greater anxiety than usual. I describe my love for old-fashioned Bach performance, and why it still speaks to us in a genuine and elevating manner. In particular, I foreground the early years of the Bach Aria Group, founded in 1946 by the American philanthropist and collector William H. Scheide. All the singers in this episode (including Lois Marshall) performed under the aegis of this ensemble, either as members or featured guests: Eileen Farrell, Maureen Forrester, Richard Lewis, Norman Farrow, Mack Harrell, William Warfield, and Jennie Tourel. Many of the great instrumentalists associated with the group are heard in duet with these singers, including Robert Bloom, Samuel Baron, and Bernard Greenhouse. The episode ends with that most radiant of singers, Eleanor Steber, also an occasional guest of the Bach Aria Group in a fleet but full-voiced outpouring of celebratory coloratura.

YouTube Link to the documentary about the Bach Aria Group referenced in the episode:

A Time for Bach (1948)

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.


Episode 56. Happy Birthday to moi! (A festive playlist)



I was born this very day a specific number of years ago. My friends know exactly whe this landmark event took place. Today also marks the rollout of Season Two of Countermelody complete with a brand new theme song, once again sung by my girl Claudia Muzio. In celebration of these events, I’ve decided to give you a playlist of a few of my favorite pop divas, my association of some of whom stretches all the way back to my childhood. And what a motley assortment it is! Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Barbara Cook, Eartha Kitt, the recently deceased Juliette Gréco, ABBA, Barbra Streisand, Bonnie Raitt, Billie Holiday, Eurythmics, Jackie DeShannon, Dolly Parton, Laura Lee, Yma Sumac, Nicole Croisille, Linda Ronstadt, Freda Payne, Joey Heatherton, Dinah Washington, Dalida, Aretha, and of course my beloved Dusty. I’ve even thrown a few guys into the mix! This is a playlist worthy of any diva-loving late-middle aged homosexual that any lover of sometimes good music and mostly fantastic singing can enjoy. And you will enjoy it, dagnabbit. Cuz it’s my birthday and I said so!

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!

 


Episode 55. Season Two Teaser



This week represents the limbo between the first and second seasons of Countermelody. I have been collating ideas for programs for the coming year and I have some short snippets representing singers and topics that we’ll be encountering there. We begin the episode with Francisco Araiza, who celebrates his 70th birthday on October 4th. And we conclude the episode celebrating the live of Helen Reddy, whose song “I Am Woman” formed the soundtrack to the burgeoning Women’s Movement in the 1970s. In between I present short clips of some of my favorite singers who will be featured in upcoming episodes, including Anita Cerquetti, Alexander Kipnis, Russell Oberlin, Ruby Elzy, Eidé Noréna, Sándor Kónya, Heather Harper, Paul Robeson, Cyndi Lauper, Milada Šubrtová, Carol Brice, John Reardon, Yi-Kwe Sze, Judith Blegen, Charles Cambon, Dory Previn, Donald Gramm, Pierre Bernac, Irmgard Seefried, Lotte Lenya, Dusty Springfield, and many others. This episode is also a thank you to all listen and support the podcast in whatever ways they are able. I can’t wait to bring you the first episode of Season Two next week!

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 54. Transatlantic Crossover (Crossover Classics IX)



Today is the final episode of the Crossover Classics series and the final episode of Season One of Countermelody. The subject is US-American singers who spent significant portions of their lives and careers in Europe. I begin with an historical survey of early Twentieth Century singers who emigrated from the US to Europe (Geraldine Farrar, Mary Lewis) as well as from Europe to the US (Jarmila Novotná, Lotte Lehmann). Singers are featured in operetta (Barry McDaniel, Donald Grobe, Arlene Saunders), musicals (Reri Grist, Tatiana Troyanos, Wilbur Evans, Robert Trehy, Maria Ewing), jazz (Margaret Tynes, Charles Holland, Shirley Verrett), and pop, soul, and schlager (Lawrence Winters, Anna Moffo, Kenneth Spencer, Grace Bumbry, Felicia Weathers). The range of composers represented is enormous, from Cole Porter to Carrie Jacobs-Bond to Jimmy Webb to Rodgers and Hammerstein to ABBA to Duke Ellington to Gilbert Bécaud to J.B. Lenoir to Franz Lehár. The tone ranges from tongue in cheek to dead serious, from the quasi-bel canto pop vocalism of Muriel Smith to the intimate, Lieder-like shadings of Roberta Alexander to the raw blues stylings of Barbara Hendricks. Tune in next week for an sneak preview of Season Two.

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 53. Justice (In Memoriam RBG)



I awoke Saturday morning in Berlin to the apocalyptic news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. Once again a crisis in the United States has prompted me to quickly put together a different episode than originally planned. The late Justice Ginsburg was a particular lover of opera, and so I have decided to showcase some of her favorite operas and performers. We will hear extended scenes from La Gioconda, Le nozze di Figaro, Der Rosenkavalier, Otello, Don Giovanni, La Fanciulla del West, Fidelio, Götterdämmerung, and others in performances featuring favorite singers of hers, including Jussi Björling. Renata Tebaldi, Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, and Cesare Siepi. Other featured singers are Gottlob Frick, Fernando Corena, Margaret Price, Leonard Warren, Arlene Saunders, Carol Neblett, Gianpiero Mastromei, Beverly Sills, Gwyneth Jones, Lucia Popp, Brigitte Fassbaender, Christiane Eda-Pierre, Elisabeth Söderström, Eileen Farrell, among many others. The episode also incorporates a memorial tribute to Maria Callas on the 43rd anniversary of her death, and to Jessye Norman on what would have been her 75th birthday.

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 singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. 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.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. 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. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!