Category Archives: African American Singers

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!


Episode 52. Operaish Broadway (Crossover Classics VIII)



Today’s episode (in celebration of Countermelody’s first birthday!) picks up where the last one left off: more musicals, more opera (and operaish) singers! Excerpts from cast recordings, radio broadcasts, telecasts, and live performances highlight the work of singers who divided their time, to a greater or lesser extent, between the Broadway stage and the operatic stage. We begin with the great bass-baritones (Ezio Pinza, Cesare Siepi, Giorgio Tozzi, and José Van Dam) and move through the great Broadway (and sometime opera) baritones (Alfred Drake, John Raitt, Bruce Yarnell, Robert Trehy, Leslie Scott, Lawrence Winters, and John Reardon) with a nod to other opera singers who have also graced the Broadway stage (Helen Traubel, Shirley Verrett, Mona Paulee, Dorothy Sarnoff, Risë Stevens, Lee Venora, Camilla Williams, and Carol Brice). We then consider singers whose vocal abilities could easily have put them on the opera stage, had they chosen to so devote themselves (Alice Ghostley, Madeline Kahn, Barbara Cook, Florence Henderson, Judy Kaye, Lisa Vroman, Audra McDonald, Victoria Clark, Rebecca Luker, and the late Marin Mazzie). The episode also features tributes to two recently deceased divas (Gabriella Tucci and Christiane Eda-Pierre) as well as a spotlight on the gorgeous soprano Margaret Tynes, who just celebrated her 101st 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!

 


Episode 51. Legitimate Broadway (Crossover Classics VII)



Today’s topic is operetta and opera on Broadway. From the early days of the Great White Way, a large amount of the musical theatre repertoire was actually operetta. I begin with a discussion of the composers of such operettas (Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml, and Sigmund Romberg, with a significant nod to Jerome Kern as well) and the singers who appeared in those works. Then I present an array of works adapted from the classical repertoire (primarily Wright and Forrest’s Song of Norway and Kismet), followed by examples of that curious hybrid, Broadway opera, including Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium and The Consul; Marc Blitzstein’s Regina; Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella; Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes’s Street Scene; and Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. A wide range of singers is included, some celebrated (Lotte Lenya, Patricia Neway, Barbara Cook, Marta Eggerth, Lawrence Tibbett), some less so (Helena Scott, Lee Venora, Fritzi Scheff, Robert Rounseville), the careers of some of whom stretch back to the beginning of the century, but all singers which straddled the fence between musicals, operetta, and opera. But rest assured: this is no dry history lesson: it’s a fast-paced romp through a fun and fascinating topic!

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 50. Rogue Tenors (Crossover Classics VI)



Our crossover series continues, this time with a full episode dedicated to more than a century of great tenors singing crossover material, beginning in 1902 with Fernando de Lucia’s recording of “Serenata” by Paolo Tosti . Along the way we observe the evolution of the genre from Victorian ballads through Neapolitan songs and Spanish-tinged material (you have not lived until you have heard Fritz Wunderlich sing “Granada”!); from folk songs and musicals to international film theme songs and  popular rock hits. Other featured singers include John McCormack, Richard Crooks, Charles Kullman, Tito Schipa, Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli, Miguel Fleta, Jussi Björling, Roland Hayes, Tandy MacKenzie, Francisco Araiza, Joseph Schmidt, Beniamino Gigli, Marcel Wittrisch, Georges Thill, Richard Tauber, Jan Kiepura, James Melton, Lauritz Melchior, René Kollo, Peter Hofmann, Javier Camarena, and Jerry Hadley. Today’s episode is pure escapism, until you find yourself weeping at the unexpected beauty and pathos of it all.

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 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.