Category Archives: African American Singers

Episode 97. Owen Williams and Leslie Scott: Two Forgotten Black Pop Baritones



Today I present to you two Black baritones who made their mark in Europe and the United States over the course of several decades. Leslie Scott (ca. 1920-1969), who appeared on the State Department-sponsored tour of Porgy and Bess in the 1950s, and who played Jake in the now-obscure 1959 film version of the piece, began his career as a big-band singer. About his fellow singer, bass-baritone Owen Williams, I have been unable to discover much of anything, in spite of the fact that, like his compatriot Kenneth Spencer, he was featured in German film and television in the 1950s and 1960s and also recorded extensively in the 1960s, in his case, for Philips Records. Both Williams and Scott display undeniable vocal and interpretive gifts that are sometimes obscured by other factors, such as the tackiness of the arrangements and the pervasive and unchecked plantation nostalgia of the period, especially in Germany. Close examination of the recorded legacies of both Williams and Scott provides a partial glimpse into their lives and careers, even if too much of it today remains hidden in obscurity.

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 95. Queer Blues and Beyond (Pride 2021)



For my second Queer Pride episode this month, I offer you a panoply of blues and other popular music sung by women of color over the past 100 years and over a wide range of the LGBTQ spectrum. The focus is on the queer and bisexual women of color who enlivened the Harlem blues scene in the 1920s, including the newly popular and celebrated Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, as well as other vital and iconoclastic singers of that era, including Bricktop, Lucille Bogan, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Hegamin, and the fascinating Gladys Bentley. The net is further extended to include jazz (Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington), pop, rock ‘n’ roll (Big Mama Thornton), gospel (Sister Rosetta Tharpe), cabaret (Mabel Mercer, Joséphine Baker), soul (Carolyn Franklin) and folk (Joan Armatrading, Meshell Ndegeocello, Toshi Reagon, and Laura Love). Of course in this episode the musical categories are as flexible as are the sexual and gender boundaries, so expect to see a lot of genre-hopping as well among these subversive, innovative, and pathbreaking women of color.

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 94. Odetta (Juneteenth 2021)



In honor of the first commemoration of Juneteenth as a national holiday, there is no artist more worthy of celebration than the great Odetta (1930-2008). The breadth of her influence and the scope of her accomplishment should be trumpeted from the rooftops. From her first appearance on primetime national television opposite Harry Belafonte, to her prominence as the artist at the forefront of the folk music revival, to the importance of her music as a centerpiece to the Civil Rights Movement, to her additional contributions to blues and gospel music (and even, less expectedly, jazz and soul), Odetta Felious Holmes remains one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century. From her first recording in 1954, to one of her final live performances, I present a wide-ranging portrait highlighting the significance of an artist who, for once, merits the designation “cultural icon.”

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 92. Blessed Memory (In Memoriam III)



The final episode (for now) in my series commemorating recent deaths in the musical community, this one presents a further group of treasurable (and often less well-known) musical artists, refracted through the lens of memory: personal memory, collective memory, eternal memory, blessed memory. Prepare to make or renew acquaintance with Adele Stolte, Silvano Carroli, Inés Rivadeneira, Eugenia Ratti, Caroline Kaart, Galina Savova, Bernard Ładysz, Cora Canne Meijer, Arthur Woodley, Jolanda Meneguzzer, Eldar Aliev, Sophie Boulin, and Edith Thallaug, among many others. Some were “voiceless wonders,” relatively speaking, others were gifted with enormous vocal gifts. All were artists and human beings who each made their mark in their own distinctive way. Guest stars include Vasile Moldoveanu, Cesare Siepi, Aimé Doniat, and Ralf Gothóni.

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 91. Unforgotten (In Memoriam II)



We continue our memorial tributes this week with the second of (at least) three episodes commemorating the recent deaths of singers and musicians who have helped make our existence a little more manageable, our world a bit more beautiful. From Milva to Rudolf Kelterborn, from Yevgeny Nesterenko to Mary Wilson, from Jane Manning to Antoine Hodge, may they all rest in peace and power. Above all, this episode is dedicated to George Floyd on the first anniversary of his murder.

The two Countermelody episodes from a year ago devoted to music of protest and emancipation:

www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-37-no-more-slavery-chains

www.countermelodypodcast.com/episode-38-something-in-the-air

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 90. Gone But Not Forgotten (In Memoriam I)



Christa Ludwig, celebrated two weeks ago, is not the only great singer and musician to have departed this earthly realm in recent months. This episode presents a wide cross-section of great musicians we have lost, not just singers, and not just classical musicians. Included are many opera singers who today are less well-known, including Sándor Sólyom Nagy, Libuše Domanínská, Margherita Roberti, Tamara Sorokina, Angelo Mori, Marcella Reale, Biserka Cvejić, and Michel Trempont. A wide range of composers including Ennio Morricone, Elias Rahbani, and Harold Budd, also receive a nod, as do instrumentalists Leon Fleisher, Osian Ellis, and Julian Bream, and non-classical artists such as Anne Feeney, Charley Pride, Gerry Marsden, Jimmie Rodgers, and SOPHIE. Only once before on the podcast have I presented such a kaleidoscopic memorial episode; it is good to be reminded of the full range of expression pursued by great musicians of all stripes. Guest stars today include Barbara Hendricks, Muriel Smith, and John Shirley-Quirk. The tributes continue 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. 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.

Pictured: Biserka Cvejić as Amneris


Episode 87. Christa Ludwig In Memoriam



The world of singing sustained an enormous loss a week ago: the death of the great German singer Christa Ludwig on April 24 at the age of 93. A singer whose repertoire centered around the great German composers but who also sang Verdi and French repertoire with often stunning results; a mezzo-soprano who was unparalleled in Wagner, Mahler, and Brahms, but who also sang the great soprano heroines of Richard Strauss; a Lieder singer of great perception and textual acuity whose supple technique nonetheless centered on legato singing: the greatness of this artist simply cannot be overestimated. In this, the first of several episodes that, over the next few months, I will devote to one of my favorite singers, I focus on the key composers (Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Wagner) and conductors (Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan, and Leonard Bernstein) with whom she was most closely associated, while also examining some roles that might surprise you: Cenerentola, Amneris and Marie in Wozzeck. Vocal guest stars include Gloria Davy, Victoria de los Ángeles, Reri Grist, Gundula Janowitz, Gwyneth Jones, and Ludwig’s one-time husband Walter Berry. A bonus Patreon episode published concurrently with this one explores Ludwig’s mastery in the field of Lieder.

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 85. George Shirley @ 87



Today I finally get to pay tribute to one of the singers who was a formative influence on me as a budding opera and vocal aficionado. George Shirley, born on April 18, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, was one of the most versatile tenors of the second half of the twentieth century, and a pathbreaker as the first African American tenor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. I first encountered him through his matchless portrayal of Pelléas in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande opposite Elisabeth Söderström. But his Mozart is equally celebrated: the podcast also features live and studio recordings of George Shirley as Tamino (opposite Judith Raskin), Don Ottavio, Ferrando (opposite Leontyne Price),  as well as his extraordinary Idomeneo. Extant live performances of George Shirley including assumptions of roles as diverse as Don José (opposite Shirley Verrett), David in Die Meistersinger, Pinkerton (opposite an incandescent young Renata Scotto), Mephistopheles in Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and even Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos. All of these are included in the episode, as are rare song recordings from throughout his career. Raise a glass to the great George Shirley, and join me in thanking him for having shared his extraordinary artistic gift with us for all these years!

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 83: Frühlingslieder [Spring Songs]



Dear listeners, it is Easter Sunday. While we are strictly non-sectarian at Countermelody, I did want to offer a program of spring favorites to welcome in the earth’s rebirth. (I also had to scramble to create a “filler” episode due to having lost two days of work this week after receiving my first jab on Wednesday.) Hence today’s offering: a Blumenstrauss of songs celebrating the beloved season of spring. I decided to limit today’s selections exclusively to song, omitting opera, operetta, and oratorio, but somewhat arbitrarily including songs from musicals amidst the classical and pop offerings. Even so, what a lineup of stars today: everyone from Mabel Mercer to Jan DeGaetani, from Hans Hotter to Dionne Warwick, from Georgia Brown to Roberta Alexander, from Kirsten Flagstad to Gordon MacRae. We hear composers ranging from Alec Wilder to Franz Schubert, from Milton Babbitt to Burt Bacharach, and from Hugo Wolf to Tom Lehrer. May these songs and songsters help us to welcome in the long-awaited spring!

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 81. Happy Songs (straight up)



This week I offset the gloom of last week’s music with straight-up joy. No gimmicks, no goofiness, no weird accents. Whether the composer is Giuseppe Verdi, Ralph Benatzky, Aaron Copland, Oleta Adams, or Harold Arlen, and whether sung by Nancy Wilson, Dorothy Maynor, Tina Turner, Maria Callas, Max Hansen, Conchita Supervia, Barbra Streisand, Mahalia Jackson, Lisa Della Casa, or the Pointer Sisters, all today’s selections are guaranteed to make you feel a little lighter, a little more joyous. And in today’s continuing climate of pandemic uncertainty, who doesn’t need a little more of that?

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.