Category Archives: Black History Month

Episode 263. Contralto Central



Finally, the first in my long-promised series on the contralto voice! The contralto is a rara avis in the today’s opera and classical music scene, and yet back in the day, there seem to have been more of them before the public. And of course contraltos have always been a powerful presence on the popular music scene, whether in blues, disco, jazz, or as purveyors of the Great American Songbook. There is no way that I can cover all of the great (and near-great) contraltos in recorded history, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try! Today’s selections span a wide chronological range , even for this podcast: nearly 120 years, and include voices both fleet and monolithic (and sometimes both). We begin with a tribute to the late Polish coloratura contralto Ewa Podleś and along with way we hear the most famous contraltos like Kathleen Ferrier and Marian Anderson, and jazz and pop contraltos like Nina Simone and Cassandra Wilson. We also sample singers from the earlier twentieth century such as Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Cloe Elmo, Clara Butt, Eugenia Mantelli, Kerstin Thorborg, and Sigrid Onégin (about whom I spill some major tea!) Throughout the episode are sprinkled some of the most beautiful voices of any kind that I have ever heard: the Scottish Caroline Kaart, the Romanian Florica Cristofereanu, the Czech Věra Soukupová, the Dutch Aafje Heynis, the French Germaine Cernay, the British Norma Procter, and the Russian Valentina Levko. And if like me you have despaired of ever hearing another true contralto again in our lifetime, we hear in young Jasmin White cause for rejoicing. And if your favorites are not heard today, fear not, for this is the tip of the iceberg: many more great singers will follow when the series continues in two weeks.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 257. The Marvelous Marvis Martin



I have been juggling a number of brand new episode ideas for the coming weeks, but when I discovered that Sunday April 7 was the birthday of Marvis Martin, one of my favorite sopranos, I put all those ideas on the back burner and eagerly put together this birthday tribute to a singer who not only is celebrated as possessing one of the most beautiful voices of her generation, but who has also had a long, successful, and unconventional career. For whatever arbitrary reason, Marvis Martin made only a handful of major label recording releases, but, for us lucky persons who live in the age of YouTube, there are a growing number of gorgeous live recordings available that feature this artist in her prime. In some ways she reminds me of Veronica Tyler, whose career I charted in a popular episode of the podcast a few months ago. In the case of the highly respected and frankly marvelous Marvis Martin, we are able to personally present her with the flowers that she so richly deserves. I have curated a wonderful setlist today of mostly live material that includes representative selections from each of the platforms on which her career was focused: opera, concert, and recital, everything from Mozart and Handel to Copland, Rorem, and Barber; from selections from Porgy and spirituals, to Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and Korngold. My dear friend Jerry Hadley appears as a duet partner in a rare live Idomeneo performance and conductors Georg Solti, Henry Lewis, Vladimir Ashkenazy, James Levine, Charles Mackerras, Eve Queler, and Libor Pešek, among others, support this magnificent singer from the podium.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 246. Previn Moore Introduces Camilla Williams and Janet Williams (Listeners’ Favorites)



As the final entry in this year’s Black History Month episodes, my dear friend Previn Moore introduces his Listeners’ Favorites choice, an episode I published in the early months of Countermelody back in the fall of 2019. It features two phenomenal Black sopranos whose friendship and mentorship Previn outlines in detail in an introductory interview I did with him at his home in Vienna this past week. This episode features the phenomenal, the legendary, the pathbreaking soprano Camilla Williams (1919-2012), whom Previn first met as a young tenor at Indiana University’s School of Music, where Miss Williams was the first African American teacher of singing to serve on the faculty. While there, Previn also formed a lifelong friendship with Camilla’s student, Janet Williams, who herself went on to a brilliant worldwide career, including twelve years as a leading soprano with the Staatsoper Unter den Linden here in Berlin. Janet and I met as fellow students in the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera and it has been my joy and a privilege to share a treasured friendship with her ever since. In tribute to both of these extraordinary sopranos, I offer a cache of rare studio recordings by Camilla Williams, supplemented by live material sung by Janet Williams from the artist’s private archives. Included among the selections are excerpts from Camilla’s rarely-heard album of spirituals on the MGM Records label, and a concert given by Janet Williams in her home town of Detroit in 1989, capped by a stunning rendition of Undine Smith Moore’s arrangement of the spiritual “Watch and Pray,” dedicated to Camilla Williams. Many thanks to Previn, Janet, and the extraordinary Camilla Williams for their shining examples and for their dedicated artistry.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 244. Veronica Tyler (BHM 2024)



This Countermelody episode is the last in my miniseries featuring artists from Baltimore. It is also the last in my new episodes for Black History Month 2024 featuring “Forgotten Divas.” Today I offer to you the absolutely divine soprano of Veronica Tyler (1939-2020), who fits all three categories. In the 1960s, Veronica Tyler was a name on everyone’s lips: she appeared on three different episodes of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, she was the second prize winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1966, the first time this venerable contest had featured singers, she was a featured artist at the New York City Opera, where, in their first season at Lincoln Center, she sang a Pamina in The Magic Flute of such humanity and transcendent vocal beauty that audiences were transported into another world. She sang under conductors Leopold Stokowski, Erich Leinsdorf, Zubin Mehta, Eugene Ormandy, Carlo Maria Giulini, Robert Shaw, and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. Later on she made a belated Met debut in 1985 as Serena in their premiere production of Porgy and Bess, but gradually her high profile appearances became fewer and fewer and eventually she disappeared from view. Her death on 21 March 2020 was only announced three months later, and with little fanfare. But during her heyday, Veronica Tyler was among the most elegant, compelling, and ingratiating lyric sopranos in the business. I have scoured the archives to bring to light some of the artist’s most beautiful performances, some of them virtually unheard for decades, including a 1980 album of spirituals that ranks among the best of this repertoire ever committed to disc. What inexpressible joy it brings me to present to you the unforgettable Veronica Tyler!

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 243. Ethel Ennis (BHM 2024)



Today’s “Forgotten Diva” takes us outside of the realm of opera and into the rich musical field of jazz. I have been in musical heaven the past few days as I’ve been savoring the output of the great Ethel Ennis (28 November 1932 – 17 February 2019). In her native Baltimore she was known as the “First Lady of Jazz,” and while this might cause some persons to look askance at such a claim, I can only say that they have not yet sampled the vocal, musical and interpretive majesty that is Ethel Ennis! Because of her superlative gifts, worldwide fame kept nipping at her heels, and yet she had no interest in being “famous.” She just wanted to make music, and that’s exactly what she did, remaining in the city of her birth, where she performed regularly at certain clubs, including one she and her husband Earl Arnett ran in the 1980s called “Ethel’s Place.” She had recording contracts with both Capitol Records and RCA, for whom she released some monumental albums in the 1950s and 1960s, and later in her career, as her artistry become more refined, burnished, and inward-looking, she also recorded a number of spectacular live recordings on small, independent labels. Recordings sampled on this episode cover the musical gamut from the Great American Songbook to quirky non-standards, to contemporary pop. If you hear Ethel Ennis interpret just one song, I predict that you will become an immediate fan for life.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 242. Damon Evans Introduces George Shirley (Listeners’ Favorites IX)



This week I present a Countermelody mini-series paying tribute to three great African American artists who were born in Baltimore. First up is the eclectic, versatile, and prodigiously talented Damon Evans, who introduces the latest Listeners’ Favorites episode, a tribute to an idol we both treasure, the phenomenal and pathbreaking George Shirley, who on April 18 will celebrate his 90th birthday. Damon chose to do his introduction as an interview, so as a prelude to the main episode, my listeners get to hear one amazing tenor sing the praises of another one!

George Shirley is 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 the late Renata Scotto in an incandescent early performance of one of her greatest roles), Mephistopheles in Busoni’s Doktor Faust, and even Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos. All of these are included in the episode, as are rare recordings of art songs and spirituals from throughout his career. Raise a glass to the great George Shirley and join me in thanking him for having shared so generously with us his extraordinary artistic gifts!


Episode 240. Annabelle Bernard (BHM 2024)



Last week we celebrated the 97th birthday of our Ur-Diva, Leontyne Price. And today, continuing my Black History Month 2024 theme of “Forgotten Divas,” I present to you a Verdi soprano of similar repertoire and voice to Miss Price, Annabelle Bernard (1935-2005), whose career, unlike Price’s, was centered primarily in Europe, specifically at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, where she was a member of the company for nearly forty years. Born in New Orleans, she received her early musical training from Earl Hogan (uncle of the famous composer and conductor Moses Hogan) and Sister Mary Elise Sisson, whom Bernard herself credited with being her formative and primary musical inspiration. With the patronage of Edith Rosenwald Stern, an heiress to the Sears-Roebuck fortune, Bernard found early success in Europe, winning second prize in the Munich ARD Competition in 1960, settling in Berlin in 1962. Annabelle Bernard was married to the German tenor Karl-Ernst Mercker (1933-2021), who in addition to appearing alongside her in many performances and productions, was also a fierce advocate for his wife during her tenure in Berlin, when she would encounter racism. The two of them retired to New Orleans in 1998, where Bernard became a voice teacher at Xavier University, her alma mater. This episode includes rare live clips of the soprano in works by Verdi, Mercadante, and Dallapiccola, as well as from her sole commercial recording, excerpts from Porgy and Bess in German alongside the iconic African American baritone Lawrence Winters, released in 1964, the year before Winters’s untimely death. Mercker’s strong lyric tenor is also featured in a few brief excerpts, but the main focus is on the radiant voice and artistry of Annabelle Bernard. Believe me when I tell you that I remain on the lookout for further recordings of this magnificent artist!

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 239. Gwendolyn Killebrew (BHM 2024)



This week’s “Forgotten Diva” is the mezzo-soprano / contralto Gwendolyn Killebrew (26 August 1941 – 24 December 2021), who made an indelible contribution to opera in particular during the active years of her career (1965 – 2009). Though the majority of her career was centered at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, she sang the world over with some of the most important opera companies (including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, the Salzburg Festival, Bayreuth, Washington Opera, Santa Fe Opera, La Monnaie, and the Bayerische Staatsoper), conductors (Pierre Boulez, Gary Bertini, Michael Gielen, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Georg Solti), and stage directors (Patrice Chéreau, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, August Everding, Giancarlo del Monaco, Christof Loy, and John Dew). She had an enormous repertoire from Monteverdi and Handel to Henze and Fortner, excelling in particular in various Wagner roles. She was also a superb actor, who, through the use minimal gestures and stage business, made an enormous impact. This episode presents her in a wide range of material, including both live and commercial recordings ranging from Cavalieri to Zimmermann, alongside such fellow singers as Teresa Stratas, Carlo Bergonzi, Hermann Prey, Stuart Burrows, Sherrill Milnes, and Gail Gilmore led by conductors Leonard Bernstein, Gary Bertini, Bohumil Gregor, Berislav Klobučar, James Levine, Heinz Wallberg, and Eve Queler. Of special interest is a rare live recording of her prize-winning performance of “Asie” from Ravel’s Shéhérazade at the 1967 International Voice Competition in Montréal. The episode opens with brief memorial tributes to soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez and pianist Thomas Muraco.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 238. Delcina Stevenson (BHM2024)



I am so grateful to all the listeners who did introductions to their favorite episodes last month. It provided me with a little bit of needed breathing space and now I am back raring to go with my first new episode for 2024, just in time for Black History Month 2024! There is a secondary theme for this month which is “Forgotten Divas,” a favorite topic of mine at any time of year. The term “forgotten” needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because these women are anything but forgotten among those who experienced their singing, teaching, or friendship live and in person. Nevertheless, for want of a better term (Divas Who Deserve to Be As Well-Remembered as Any of Their More Famous Counterparts seems a little wordy), I’ll stick with the designation I chose.

Today’s artist is the only “Forgotten Diva” who is still with us, soprano Delcina Stevenson, born 29 September 1933, so this enables me to also “give flowers” (to coin a present-day term I actually like) to her directly. She was born in Kansas and graduated from Kansas University. After moving to California in 1960, she coached and studied with Lotte Lehmann, Gwendolyn Koldofsky, Martial Singher, and William Vennard, and was a protégée early in her career of Kurt Herbert Adler at the San Francisco Opera. She has lived and performed around the world, primarily in California, New York, and Germany. She possessed one of the most exquisite lyric soprano voices I have ever heard, one which never aged, but simply grew more lush and voluminous. The musical excerpts I have compiled feature her in live and studio recordings from over the course of more than 30 years, ranging Mozart to Sondheim to Rossini, in which that voice is on shimmering display. I am thrilled to introduce (or reintroduce) her to you.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 234. David Savran Introduces Carol Brice (Listeners’ Favorites V)



This Listeners’ Favorites episode serves a dual purpose: first it is a celebration the publication this week of my partner David Savran’s new book, Tell It to the World: The Broadway Musical Abroad, by Oxford University Press. (I’ll be doing two episodes with David on this book in March in conjunction with the book launch.) Second, David introduces us to one of his favorite Countermelody episodes, a 2021 Black History Month celebration of the life, voice, and career of the great African American contralto Carol Brice (1916-1985), whose career encompassed both Broadway and opera. It’s that very versatility that most attracted David to Brice’s work. He describes to us his first exposure to a variety of her recordings, from Falla to Finian’s Rainbow. I myself first heard Carol Brice in her recording of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” which exemplifies all her musical virtues: simplicity and directness of utterance, lack of sentimentality, and deep identification with both text and music. Add to this a voice of such depth and refinement and a technique so secure that she is almost without equal. From her early career outings as the first African American to win the coveted Naumburg Award, through her appearances on the Broadway stage and in Porgy and Bess, Carol Brice brought an emotional honesty to her performances such as is rarely encountered in any field of genre. On this episode I feature her in a wide range of live and commercial recordings from Marc Blitzstein’s Regina to concert pieces by Brahms and Mahler, focusing in particular on a matchless 1947 song recital with her brother Jonathan Brice as her collaborator. Brice’s second husband, the baritone Thomas Carey is also featured in a pair of recordings. Thank you, David, for re-introducing my listeners to this great artist, and congratulations on your monumental new book!

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.

 


Episode 232. Janet Williams and Paul Padillo Introduce Maria Ewing (Listeners’ Favorites III)



January 9 is already the second anniversary of the death of the iconoclastic (and iconic) Maria Ewing, who died of cancer in her home outside of her native Detroit on January 9, 2022. She was an artist both admired and derided during her lifetime, whose importance since her death has only become more apparent. It so happens that two of my most faithful listeners, Janet Williams and Paul Padillo, chose the episode that I published in her honor as their favorite episode. Paul is a passionate opera advocate who maintains a blog as well as a Facebook page in which he writes with extraordinary eloquence about the musical genre we all adore. Janet is celebrated throughout the world as one of the finest singers of her generation who has gone on to become one of the most important voice teachers in the world today, teaching, with compassion and common sense, a technique grounded in the essentials of bel canto. Their spoken introductions to the episode highlight different aspects of what made Ewing so special. For Paul, he became a lifelong fan after hearing her performance of Blanche de la Force in Poulenc’s operatic masterpiece, The Dialogues of the Carmelites. For Janet, it was a shared provenance (both were natives of Detroit) as well as a common mentor, the late David Di Chiera, who founded and ran Michigan Opera Theatre, the company featured both Maria and Janet in some of their first operatic appearances. Maria’s passing hit me particularly hard because at the time of her death, I was in the midst of creating a special episode in her honor and had been immersing myself in her fascinating performances, finding myself more and more in awe of her one-of-a-kind artistry. This tribute episode is simply not to be missed.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 225. Joya Sherrill



This week’s episode is the first in what I hope will be a series featuring vocalists who performed with Duke Ellington, Today’s artist is the playful and sophisticated Joya Sherrill (20 August 1924 – 28 June 2010) who, by a series of happy “accidents,” became one of the best-remembered and most enduring of Ellington’s songsters while still a teenager. For she was not only a musically- and vocally-gifted singer, she was also a lyricist and composer. She herself composed the lyrics to the Billy Strayhorn classic “Take the ‘A’ Train,” as well as another Ellington standard, “Kissing Bug,” she also was the first singer to record “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and numerous other Ellington and Strayhorn standards. Though she left the Ellington Orchestra before 1950, she continued to appear with them in various projects, including his 1957 television extravaganza A Drum Is a Woman (alongside soprano Margaret Tynes), and My People, his 1963 extravaganza commemorating the centenary of the Emancipation Proclamation. She also performed with the Benny Goodman Orchestra on their 1962 tour of Russia, and was the first African American host of a children’s television program, Time for Joya (later renamed Joya’s Fun School) which began in 1970 and ran in reruns until 1982 on local New York television. In this endeavor she was assisted by another powerhouse Black musician, Luther Henderson, who also arranged and conducted her altogether individual 1959 studio album, Sugar and Spice, which put a sophisticated spin on old Mother Goose rhymes. As late as 1994 she continued to perform and record the music of Duke Ellington and others. Here is an artist whose combination of élan and exuberance is well worth rediscovering and celebrating.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.

 


Episode 199. Tina and the Expats



If you’re like me (and I hope that, at least in this way, you are!) you have adored Tina Turner since you first became aware of her. In my case, it was circa 1971, seeing her perform “Proud Mary” on television. At the time I was a pretty snooty (and snotty) kid much more prone to Mahler and Britten than I was to pop music. But something about Tina got to me. And when, against all odds, her star rose again in the 1980s, I was once again drawn into her orbit. So when she died last week in Switzerland, aged 83, I was really thrown for a loop. For a week I racked my brains about how I could pay proper tribute to a figure who, as one of the biggest pop stars in the world, not only changed the face of music, but also of our culture in general. Normally I prefer to stay focused on an artist’s work, but in Tina’s case, her compelling personal story also commanded attention, and in a way the two are inseparable. As much as we rightly revile Ike Turner for his inexcusable abuse and torture of his wife and everyone else around him, he was also a musical innovator in the rock ‘n’ roll scene and one who, one hopes at least, recognized the genius of Anna Mae Bullock, whom he plucked from obscurity to assume the persona of his wife and co-creator. Even if his contributions are now irreparably tainted, it was Tina who was the lifeblood of that duo, and who became known as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In my podcast I often focus on US artists, predominantly those of color, who chose to relocate to Europe and forge careers there. I have devoted a lot of time, space, and research to the Black opera singers who came here, but there is an equally fascinating story to be told about the pop singers of many eras and genres, who also chose to make Europe their home. Though this episode focuses primarily on Tina and some of the less-explored material throughout her career, I seek to contextualize her by also discussing the many African American singers, from Adelaide Hall to Joséphine Baker, from Donna Summer to Dee Dee Bridgewater, who either spent formative time in Europe or settled there permanently. Along with the aforementioned favorites, I also focus on lesser-known artists such as Beauty Milton, Vickie Henderson, Betty Dorsey, Salena Jones, and Bertice Reading (my latest mega-discovery). It has been cathartic and inspirational for me to create this episode; I hope it provides a similar experience for you.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 186. Roberta Alexander in Opera



Today it is with the utmost excitement that I bring you an episode devoted to one of my favorite singers of all time, soprano Roberta Alexander, who celebrates her birthday today, March 3rd! I remember first encountering this radiant voice of burnished silver back when I was in graduate school when I discovered her early recordings of art song, including albums devoted to Charles Ives and Richard Strauss. Over the course of a long and successful career she has sung in all major opera houses around the world and in concert halls under the batons of countless distinguished maestri. What is it that makes this voice so special? Alongside a rock-solid vocal technique that has allowed her to sing well into her seventies, she is also gifted with impeccable musicianship and staggering stylistic versatility. For me it is not only the unusual color of the voice, both shimmering and profound (the chiaroscuro!), but even more so, her dedication to communication through clarity of diction and razor-sharp dramatic precision that sends her into the realm of the all-time greats. This episode focuses on Roberta’s versatility and prowess on the operatic stage, featuring live and studio recordings over more than thirty years of works by composers from Handel, Gluck, and Mozart, through twentieth century masters such as Janácek, Gershwin, and Berthold Goldschmidt. We also hear an excerpt from one of Roberta’s favorites among her recordings, a rare 1982 live performance of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder. Speaking of Lieder, an upcoming episode this spring will focus on our diva on the concert platform. It was my great honor to meet Roberta in person when she was performing in Berlin in 2022 and therefore it is also to her as a friend that I extend my heartiest good wishes for a happy birthday. I had to remind myself not to fan girl as I was recording the narration for this episode, but I’m not sure I succeeded!

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.

 


Episode 185. Black Pop Icons auf Deutsch (Black History Month 2023)



There are advantages to being one’s own boss, and one of those is that when Frau Corona (AKA Madame Covid) comes to visit, one can reshuffle and recalibrate one’s plans to fit the exigencies of the moment. Hence today’s episode, a watered-down version of the larger topic (Black Emigré Pop Singers) which I intended to address today. Instead, I offer you many of your favorite Black pop artists of the 1950s and 1960s performing songs in German. Some of these are versions of chart toppers with new German words; some of them are songs specifically composed for these artists for the German market. The common variable of these songs, whether they are known or unknown, is that they are all delightful, and that one of those delights is seeing how these artists come to terms with the difficulties of the German language. Featured are jazz singers (Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald), pop groups (The Supremes, The Temptations) and solo artists (Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, and Dionne Warwick). Ms. Warwick is further featured in a number of less-familiar classics by the late Burt Bacharach which she recorded not only in German, but also in French and Italian. (Say it with me now: Geh’! Geh’!… Geh’! Geh’!)

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 184. Eugene Holmes (Black History Month 2023)



Eugene Holmes (1932 – 2007), baritone supreme, should be remembered as one of the most significant voices of the Twentieth Century and a Black singer on a par with the most revered and celebrated. Though he participated in the creation of some important work (including by Gian Carlo Menotti, Gunther Schuller, and Frederick Delius), and performed with San Francisco Opera, the Wiener Staatsoper, New York City Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera Regional Company, his career remained centered for more than thirty years at his home company, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. The rare recorded documents that we have of Eugene Holmes, including two self-produced LPs of spirituals and three different recordings of Delius’s rare opera Koanga (two of them live), reveal a voice of rare magnitude, range, power, and sensitivity, qualities which made him one of the premier Verdi baritones of his day. But due to a number of factors, including his modesty and his unwillingness to travel far from home, he did not achieve the international recognition that he deserved. I have pulled together all of the recorded material of Eugene Holmes that I could find, and present excerpts from these varied sources. Guest vocalists appearing opposite Holmes include sopranos Claudia Lindsey, Gwyneth Jones, and Barbara Carter, and tenors János B. Nagy and Giorgio Aristo. In the production of this podcast, I was greatly aided by reminiscences provided by his colleagues Bonita Hyman, the German-based African American mezzo-soprano; Stephen Harrison, the retired musical director of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein; and Heribert Klein, member of the committee of UNICEF Deutschland, an organization to which Eugene Holmes was deeply committed.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 183. Martina Arroyo (Black History Month 2023)



Last week on Feburary 2, the beloved African American soprano Martina Arroyo turned 86 years old. Although the Countermelody birthday tribute to Ms. Arroyo is a week late, it is nonetheless profoundly heartfelt. I have always valued the artistry and voice of this artist who often referred to herself as “The Other One” (because she was so frequently confused with today’s birthday diva, Leontyne Price). In preparing this episode, however, I flipped over into fan girl mode: was there anything that Martina Arroyo could not do? Of course she was celebrated as one of the premiere Verdi sopranos of her day (or, indeed, of the twentieth century), and there are ample examples on the episode that give testament to her supremacy in that repertoire. But she was also an intrepid performer of contemporary music, creating important works by both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Samuel Barber. Her performances of baroque music, while very much following an earlier style of performance practice, are vivid and insightful. Her affinity with French grand opera style is off the charts, as evidenced by an excerpt from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine. She also could have pursued a path as a Mozart and Strauss singer, and selections by both of these composers prove her mastery of this genre as well. She also had the power to be a full-fledged dramatic soprano, as shown by her live performances of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder and the title role in Puccini’s Turandot. And yet her subtlety as a recitalist is shown in live and studio Lieder performances. And the fervor and vigor of her performance of spirituals is a thing of joy. This episode is full of surprises but one thing is not surprising at all: the degree of dedication and commitment of this artist, which continues to this day with the performance and education initiative of the Martina Arroyo Foundation. (The episode begins with a brief tribute to Burt Bacharach, who died yesterday at the age of 94.)

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 182. Dorothy Maynor (Black History Month 2023)



I lead off my new episodes for Black History Month 2023 with one of the most glorious voices ever captured on recordings, Dorothy Maynor (03 September 1910 – 19 February 1996), one of the most glorious lyric soprano voices ever captured on recording. Discovered by Serge Koussevitzky in the late 1930s and championed by him and a host of other conductors (including Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy), she became renowned as a recitalist but, because of restrictions of the era placed upon Black singers, never sang on any operatic stage. Nevertheless, her studio recordings of arias by Mozart, Debussy, and Charpentier are legendary. Our appreciation of Maynor the singer is greatly enhanced by the presence of live radio recordings as well as a recently-issued live 1940 song recital from the Library of Congress. It is one of the great injustices of musical history that gifted Black singers of Maynor’s caliber from that era were outrightly denied the opportunity to perform in staged opera performances at venues like the Metropolitan Opera. Dorothy Maynor nonetheless persevered and left an incredible legacy, and not just a vocal one: in 1963, the year of her retirement from singing, she founded the Harlem School of the Arts, for which, before she stepped down as President in 1979, she raised more than $2 million dollars for the construction of a new facility for the institution. She also was the first African American singer to perform at a presidential inaugural (both for Harry S. Truman in 1949 and Dwight D. Eisenhower four years later), as well as the first African American to sit on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Opera. This episode features Maynor in live, studio, and radio recordings of repertoire by Bach, Handel, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, as well as some of the finest recordings of spirituals ever made. Also heard are the songs of three Black composers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Cecil Cohen, and R. Nathaniel Dett, the latter of which Maynor studied with at the Hampton Institute, whose work Maynor frequently programmed on her recitals. The episode opens with a joyous birthday tribute to next week’s subject, Martina Arroyo, whose 1974 album of spirituals was backed by the Choir of the Harlem School of the Arts conducted by Maynor herself.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 179. The Pop Stylings of Maria Ewing



A year ago, as I was preparing my memorial Countermelody episode dedicated to Maria Ewing I was struck anew at just how naturally she had mastered the often messy “crossover” genre. Perhaps that’s because she never “crossed over” at all: this material formed part of her essence. I thought it would be a lovely thing to give a more complete picture of her work as a pop singer, using three primary sources: first, her 1990 studio pop album entitled “From this Moment On,” featuring arrangements by Richard Rodney Bennett; second, a rare release entitled “Simply Maria,” which comprises a live concert she gave at the Barbican Centre in London in 10 May 1997; and third, live and studio recordings that she made in in the early 2000s with the jazz combo Kymaera, led by guitarist Simon James. The range of material is dizzying, from Broadway classics by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Jule Styne, Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman, Kurt Weill, and George and Ira Gershwin to jazz stylings by Tom Jobim, eden ahbez, and Billy Strayhorn, with more than a few surprises along the way, and her mastery of it all is exceptional, with all of the intense commitment she showed in her operatic portrayals (and none of the condescension or preciousness associated with certain other crossover artists). I’m so thrilled to share this less well-known side of one of the great operatic singing actors of our time.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 177. Great Singers at Twilight



For the last episode of 2022, I begin a series of episodes which was one of the reasons I began Countermelody in the fall of 2019: a celebration of great singing from great singers in the late years of their lives and careers. In the early years of the recording industry, a long-retired artist such as Adelina Patti would consent to leave recorded documents of their voices for future generations to experience. Oftentimes a cherished artist will make a guest cameo appearance at an important event (think of Leontyne Price coming out of retirement at age 74 and singing “God Bless America” at the September 30, 2001 memorial concert at Carnegie Hall). Other times, artists like Johnny Mathis, Regina Resnik, or Helen Donath, simply never retire, but continue to bestow their artistry upon us decade after decade. Sometimes, as is the case of Lotte Lenya, a performer finds herself later in her life on a mission which demands that she resume performing, in Lenya’s case, as a means of securing the musical legacy of her late husband Kurt Weill. There is also, in the case of someone like Alberta Hunter or Elisabeth Welch, the thrill of a jazz or pop artist at the end of her life experiencing a career resurgence at the end of a long life. In the classical world, artists late in their lives can still give extraordinary performances of art song, which makes fewer demands on their voices than taxing operatic roles, while allowing full display of their deepened artistry and experience. There are also operatic roles specifically designed for the more mature artist: roles like Schigolch in Lulu, or the Countess in Pique-Dame, among many others, which are sampled here in performances by Hans Hotter and Rita Gorr, respectively. There are also those rare and exceptional artists who are able to perform movingly even into their nineties, like the Ukrainian bass Mark Reizen, or the verismo soprano Magda Olivero; or after having suffered catastrophic physical setbacks, like the German tenor Karl Erb, the African American baritone Robert McFerrin, or the pop icon Joni Mitchell. These artists (along with many others) and this topic seems deeply appropriate as 2022 draws to a close and we look forward to the inevitable challenges, the blank slate, the looming horizon, of the year to come.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 149. Music Black and Queer



Over the course of history, for Persons of Color who also happen to be queer, the interface between these two populations is sometimes an enormously challenging one, but one which also frequently produces path-breaking musical artists of enormous courage and originality. In celebration of Juneteenth this coming weekend, and as a follow-up to my Queer Blues episode published last year, I once again pay tribute to an extraordinary array of Black and Queer musical artists across a wide spectrum of popular musical styles, be it Blues, jazz. middle-of-the-road pop, musicals, rock ‘n’ roll, disco, and folk. Artists represented include Billy Strayhorn, Billie Holiday, Johnny Mathis, Tracy Chapman, Mabel Mercer, Joan Armatrading, Nona Hendryx, Sylvester, Joséphine Baker, Jackie Shane, Carmen McRae, Billy Preston, Esquerita, and Carolyn Franklin, Michael R. Jackson, the 2022 Tony Award winner for A Strange Loop, is introduced by my dear friend the theater scholar David Savran, who describes what makes this piece and its creator so daring and original.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 134. Legacy (Black History Month 2022 Postlude)



This is the second part of my final episode of Black History Month 2022, continuing the exploration of the legacies of more than two dozen mostly underrecorded African American artists. Each piece of this aural mosaic fills in gaps in the recorded history of these artists. After opening memorial tributes to Josephine Veasey, Antonietta Stella, and Betty Davis, the episode is broken into several sections: first, recordings of Baroque music by Aubrey Pankey, Carmen Balthrop, Adele Addison, Betty Allen, Seth McCoy, Marvin Hayes, and a rare live recording by Marian Anderson, whose 125th birthday was observed this past week. There follow recordings of concert repertoire sung by Dorothy Maynor, Louise Parker, and Grace de la Cruz, with William Pearson and Julius Eastman leading us briefly into the bizarre world of the extended vocal techniques of the 1960s. There follow recorded performances of art song by Helen Colbert, Rhea Jackson, John Riley, Clamma Dale, Ellabelle Davis, Marvis Martin, and Cynthia Haymon, whereupon the episode concludes with some rare performances of operatic repertoire with Gwendolyn Killebrew, Claudia Lindsey, Dagmar Průšová, and Gwendolyn Walters, capped by an exquisite a cappella performance of “A City Called Heaven” by the great Mattiwilda Dobbs.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 133. Never Forget (Black History Month 2022)



I bid a lingering farewell to Black History Month 2022 with the first of a two-part episode featuring singers, each of whom left a relatively small but invaluable recorded legacy. I begin with soloists from the Leonard de Paur Chorus, and continue with earliest recorded examples, more than a century old, of African American singers. I follow with a series of singers, each of whom made a mark in varied productions of Porgy and Bess, but all of them singing other material: by Mozart, Arlen, Bernstein, Cole Porter, Howard Swanson, and a US workers’ song translated into German. I conclude with a trio of exceptional Verdi sopranos of whom you may not yet have heard. Among the singers heard today are Charles Holland, Luther Saxon, Eugene Holmes, John C. Payne, Harry T. Burleigh, Evelyn Dove, LeVern Hutcherson, Inez Matthews, Todd Duncan, Florence Cole-Talbert, Kenneth Spencer, Martha Flowers, Bruce Hubbard, Helen Thigpen, Ella Lee, Ruby Elzy, Theresa Green Coleman, Edward Boatner, Betty Allen, and Sarah Reese. Prepare to have your horizons expanded and your consciousness raised!

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 132. Brock Peters (Black History Month 2022)



How often it happens that, even when an artist produces an august and varied body of work, that they are remembered only for a tiny fragment of their output? Such is the case with Brock Peters (1927 – 2005). Universally recognized and justly celebrated for his portrayal of Tom Robinson in the 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Peters, born George Fisher, was also a superb singer who made his mark in a number of film musicals, as well as appearances in Broadway musicals and a series of folk albums recorded in the late 1950s and early 1960s. While the focus in this episode is on his musical accomplishments as a solo artist, I also discuss his early appearances in ensembles headed by Harry Belafonte, Leonard de Paur, and others; his jazz collaborations with Miles Davis, Randy Weston, and Duke Ellington; his other film roles; his exceptional work in voiceover and narration; and his late career singing appearances. That Brock Peters was a great actor is a given; that he was a great singer as well may be a delicious surprise to many. Guest vocal appearances by Adele Addison, Martha Flowers, Margaret Tynes, Marilyn Horne, and The Four Lads.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 131. Happy Birthday, Reri Grist! (Black History Month 2022)



The great African American coloratura Reri Grist was born on leap year 1932. We celebrate her upcoming 90th birthday with a tribute featuring many of her greatest roles and recordings. After appearing as Consuelo in the 1957 Broadway premiere of West Side Story, and encouraged by Leonard Bernstein, Grist began a career in opera that took her around the world to all of the greatest opera houses. Reri Grist was the perfect exemplar of the so-called “-ina” roles: soubrette parts in Mozart and Strauss operas (Blondchen, Susanna, Despina, Zerlina, Zerbinetta, and Sophie), as well as the comic operas of Donizetti and Rossini (including Adina, Norina, and Rosina). This episode features her in most of these roles and concludes with the glorious finale of the second act of Richard Strauss’s 1935 comedy Die schweigsame Frau, one of her most notable successes. Vocal guest stars today include Christa Ludwig, Luciano Pavarotti, Sena Jurinac, Nicolai Gedda, Gwyneth Jones, Luigi Alva, Judith Raskin, Donald Grobe, and Richard Lewis. Whether you are celebrating 90 years or 22-and-a-half leap years, we celebrate you, Frau Grist, and offer heartfelt thanks for the joys that you have offered us.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 130. Hutch (Black History Month 2022)



Leslie Hutchinson (1900-1969), known universally as Hutch, rose from his beginnings in Grenada, to become the biggest music star in London in the 1930s. Though he is but little remembered today, he personified class and élan with his smooth, supple baritone and his relaxed yet buoyant pianistic stylings. His career spanned the years from 1923 to his death, and this episode samples recordings ranging over that entire period. His musical importance is overridden today by the many sexual exploits with both women and men that remain even today, legendary. This episode highlights not just the music of Cole Porter, Hutch’s mentor and lover, but covers the entire gamut of the Great American Songbook and beyond, including many near-definitive performances of works by Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Schwartz and Dietz, and Jerome Kern, as well as some classic British standards.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 129. Leontyne Price in Concert (Black History Month 2022)



The great Leontyne Price, soprano par excellence and beacon to a world that desperately needed (and still needs) her, turned 95 this week. In celebration of her birthday, I chose to offer a less well-known and celebrated aspect of her artistry: Leontyne Price as an interpreter of art song, mélodie, and Lieder. The selections, both live and studio recordings, range over the course of her more than 40-year career, and include selections by Howard Swanson, as well as Samuel Barber and Lee Hoiby, both of whom crafted music with her specific voice in mind. Also included are melodies by Francis Poulenc, Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, and Claude Debussy; art songs by Respighi and Rachmaninov; Lieder by Wolf, Schubert, Schumann, and Richard Strauss; followed by a pair of spirituals arranged by Margaret Bonds. And, because this is Leontyne Price singing in concert, we must conclude, as she always did, with a performance of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. I also relate several brief stories which relate how I, in my youth, fell under the power of the voice of Leontyne Price. Fond birthday greetings to this extraordinary artist and woman! Long Live the Queen!

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 128. Leslie Uggams (Black History Month 2022)



I would bet (though I can’t guarantee it) that I was one of a very small number of white 8-year-old Wisconsin boys who, on Sunday nights in the summer of 1969, tuned in faithfully to watch every single episode of the short-lived variety series, The Leslie Uggams Show. Ever since encountering her on that groundbreaking show, I have loved Ms. Uggams: her combination of vivacious high spirits, powerhouse vocalism, and personal style and beauty has always enchanted me. Her performing career began long before I was born, when she appeared as a child star on various television competitions and series, later creating television history in the early sixties as a star of Sing Along with Mitch. Later she starred in a central role in 1977’s Roots, the miniseries that changed the face of television. Her popularity continues to the present day, with her appearances in such series as Empire and such films as the Deadpool franchise. Some of her more recent fans may not realize that she was also a vital performer in musicals and theatre, including her Tony-Award-winning performance in Hallelujah, Baby! in 1968 and performances in regional theatre of some of the most iconic female starring roles, including Mama Rose, Dolly Levi, and Mame Dennis. In this episode feature her in sung performances over the course of more than 60 years with special focus on her recorded work from the late 1960s. Whether you are an old or a new fan, I hope that you will be as beguiled by Leslie Uggams as I always have been.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 127. Maria Ewing in Memoriam (Black History Month 2022)



The exceptional, distinctive Maria Ewing died of cancer on January 9 at her home outside of her native Detroit at the age of 71. Even before her death, I had been planning an episode on Maria Ewing, who last fall received an enormous amount of press as the mother of actor and director Rebecca Hall, whose latest film, Passing, was hitting the screens in a big way. The film is about two light-skinned Black friends in the 1920s, one of whom makes the conscious decision to present as white. The implication in much of the press was that Maria Ewing had done the same and was being taken to task for having done so. In actuality, Maria Ewing spoke frequently about her father’s apparent African American roots, and never actively tried to hide her (at times murky) family history. But, I submit to you, this is not the real story. In this episode, the first of my Black History Month 2022 series, I attempt to present as full a musical portrait of the artist as possible, allowing listeners to experience the unique musical and dramatic genius (and I use the term advisedly) of this fascinating artist. Few singers can survive comparison with Maria Callas. Maria Ewing, for all her demonstrable flaws, was one of the few artists that merit such a comparison. In this episode we hear Ewing in a wide range of material, from Purcell’s Dido to Puccini’s Tosca, with a nod to her two most famous roles, Carmen and Salome; an emphasis on both her Mozart portrayals and a focus on her aplomb with French music; and a sampling of her flair for pop music and jazz. I also discuss her sometimes controversial vocalism and role assumptions which in turn led to her blanket dismissal by her detractors. But in the end, it is her fascinating combination of carnality and innocence which made her unique. I remain, as I always have been, a devoted member of Club Ewing. This is a long-overdue Countermelody tribute to a unique and irreplaceable singer.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 126. Canadian Singers of Art Song (Great Canadian Singers)



After two weeks of so-called “deep dives” into the careers and recordings of Lois Marshall and Jon Vickers – two of the greatest Canadian singers – this week I offer a potpourri episode of great Canadian singers singing art song. Contemporary Canadian art song, mélodie, and Lieder: it’s all here, and sung by a bevy of Canadian beauties of all vocal categories: among others, sopranos Irene Jessner, Pierrette Alarie, and Teresa Stratas; mezzo-sopranos Maureen Forrester, Portia White, and Catherine Robbin; tenors Léopold Simoneau, Raoul Jobin, and Richard Verreau; baritones Victor Braun, Gino Quilico, and James Milligan; and bass-baritones George London, Joseph Rouleau, and Donald Bell. They perform work of Schubert, Loewe, Strauss, Weill, and Hindemith, Duparc, Debussy, Milhaud, Honegger, and Sauguet, as well as Canadian composers Oskar Morawetz, Godfrey Ridout, and Robert Fleming, accompanied by John Newmark, John Wustman, Allen Rogers, Glenn Gould, and others. The episode begins with tributes to two recently deceased singers: the early music tenor Nigel Rogers and the Verdi baritone Gianni Maffeo, as well as a teaser on next week’s episode on the extraordinary Maria Ewing. “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!”

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 115. Jules Bledsoe



This week I present an important African American artist who has been nearly forgotten by history: the bass-baritone Jules Bledsoe (1897-1943). He is most remembered for creating the role of Joe in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat, but he was equally celebrated in his time for his memorable concerts, which took place both here and in Europe, and for his operatic portrayals, most significantly, the title role in Louis Gruenberg’s opera The Emperor Jones, based on the play by Eugene O’Neill, which he portrayed both in the United States and in Europe. When this opera premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1933, the legendary baritone Lawrence Tibbett created the title role (in blackface). Barred from singing at the Met because of his race, Bledsoe took his portrayal of Brutus Jones on the road, performing it in a triumphant European tour, but also subsequently in New York in 1934 under the aegis of the short-lived Aeolian Opera Company, which was intended to provide performing opportunities for Black opera singers, but which folded almost immediately. Jules Bledsoe was also a composer who wrote many songs and arrangements of spirituals, as well as a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin entitled Bondage, as well as his own operatic setting of O’Neill’s Emperor Jones, which may or may not have been performed at the time. Even less well-known and acknowledged is that Jules Bledsoe was a gay man in a relationship with a Dutch white man named Freddy Huygens who at the time of Bledsoe’s premature death was referred to as either his “manager” or his “closest friend.” I present examples of all the extant recorded material I could find by Jules Bledsoe, alongside recorded examples of work by his collaborators Abbie Mitchell, Irene Dunne, Anne Roselle, Marie Powers, Todd Duncan and excerpts from the work of composers W. Franke Harling, Shirley Graham Du Bois, and Louis Gruenberg performed by Jeanette MacDonald, Valaida Snow, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, and Lawrence Tibbett. Billie Holiday even puts in a special appearance! The episode also includes tributes to the recently departed British soprano Joan Carlyle and the US-American bass-baritone Jake Gardner.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.

 


Episode 110. Black Crooners



Season Three of Countermelody begins with a potpourri episode of some of my favorite crooners of color. I begin with an example of Bert Williams, the first African-American superstar, and offer a few other examples of important precursors, but I focus on the heyday of the crooner, from the 1940s through the early 1960s, including such honey-voiced singers as Billy Eckstine, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Hartman, Lou Rawls, Brook Benton, and Arthur Prysock. Since I apply the term “crooner” fairly loosely, I am also able to present singers from outside the traditional repertoire of the standard crooner, including Josh White, Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, Harry Belafonte, Barry White, Bobby Short, and Lamont Dozier. The episode concludes with a tribute to Broadway baritones of color and with a stunning live performance of Jackie Wilson singing “Danny Boy” in honor of my birthday. Vocal guest stars include Miriam Makeba, Linda Ronstadt, and Mabel Mercer.

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.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.


Episode 103. Gilbert Price



Never heard of Gilbert Price? This episode will remedy that situation. With a voice that was easily produced, full-ranged, tonally refulgent, technically poised, the three-time Tony nominee Gilbert Price (1942-1991) deserves to be more fully remembered today for his deeply expressive portrayals, including a starring role in Leonard Bernstein’s failed Bicentennial musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He also starred in Timbuktu!, Promenade, The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, and Langston Hughes’s 1964 musical pageant Jerico-Jim Crow, which also featured the recently deceased Micki Grant in one of her first featured roles. I feature Gilbert Price in numerous live performances, both on stage and on television, as well as four obscure singles he made for Columbia Records, in addition to considering his tragic demise. The episode also features an 88th birthday tribute to Janet Baker as well as commemorations of Grant and other recently departed musicians.

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 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 78. Twentieth Century Pioneers (Black History Month 2021 VI)



To round off #BlackHistoryMonth2021, I bring you an array of artists singing a wide range of 20th Century repertoire. Included are singers who have previously been featured in full episodes (including Lawrence Winters, Gloria Davy, Charles Holland, and Carol Brice), legendary favorites (including Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Roberta Alexander, and Barbara Hendricks), important concert singers (including Adele Addison and Betty Allen), lesser-known artists (including Helen Thipgen, Martha Flowers, William Pearson, Mareda Gaither, and Olive Moorefield), and iconic singers (including Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and Christiane Eda-Pierre) for whom important new work was created by Judith Weir, André Previn, and Charles Chaynes. The range of composers represented is equally vast and includes Leonard Bernstein, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Virgil Thomson, Michael Tippett, Lee Hoiby, Shulamit Ran, Gian Carlo Menotti, Judith Weir, Paul Bowles, Lukas Foss, and David Del Tredici. with special attention given to African American composers Margaret Bonds, Howard Swanson, William Grant Still, Hall Johnson, and Robert Nathaniel Dett. In other words: something for everyone and just a foretaste of future Countermelody programs that will continue to celebrate the contributions of African American singers.

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 77. Margaret Tynes (Black History Month 2021 V)



For a special bonus episode this week (without the usual paywall!), I bring you the extraordinary soprano Margaret Tynes, who in September celebrated her 101st birthday! Tynes is a unique artist, fearlessly forging her own musical, dramatic, and vocal path, aided and abetted by a strong voice with a powerful top register. Though she made a number of significant appearances in her homeland earlier in her career (including an appearance in Duke Ellington’s jazz suite, A Drum Is a Woman), her later successes were focused primarily in Europe, where she was particularly celebrated for her extraordinary Salome, with which she created a sensation in Spoleto in 1961, and her Lady Macbeth. All these and more are featured on this episode, which also includes spirituals and Creole folk songs, as well as excerpts from Aida, Carmen, and Porgy and Bess. Guest artists include LeVern Hutcherson, most remembered today for his appearances on stage and screen in Porgy, and George Shirley, the first African American tenor to sing at the Metropolitan Opera.

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 76. William Warfield (BHM 2021 IV)



This week’s subject is one of the towering figures of 20th century music: the African American bass-baritone William Warfield (1920–2002). Though he sprang to prominence as Joe in the 1951 MGM remake of Show Boat and as Porgy opposite his then-wife Leontyne Price in the US State Department-sponsored 1952 international tour of Porgy and Bess, in my opinion his greatest accomplishments were as a concert singer. This episode focuses on his performances of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, his interpretations of German lieder, and, from later in his career, his narration of Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait and the poetry of Langston Hughes. I knew William Warfield, universally known to his students and younger colleagues as “Uncle Bill,” when I was one of the accompanists in his vocal studio at the University of Illinois where I was obtaining my master’s degree. His kindness and his dedication to his craft inspired us all to give of our best. It is my privilege to celebrate the unique and multi-faceted artistry of this unforgettable and treasurable man.

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 75. Lenora Lafayette (BHM2021 III)



Every so often I discover a singer who had previously not come under my radar, but who simply blows me away with their voice, artistry, and communicative powers. Such an artist is the Baton Rouge-born African American soprano Lenora Lafayette (1926-1975), historically important as the first Black artist to perform at Covent Garden. Relocating to Basel shortly after finishing her training under Dusolina Giannini at Juilliard, Lafayette encountered early career success in Switzerland, winning the Geneva Competition and making a highly successful debut at the Basel Opera as Aida, a role which, along with Madama Butterfly, she performed hundreds of times. And yet, despite enormous career success in Europe, she was never able to establish herself in her native country. Her recorded legacy is slim but revelatory: an Aida in German under Clemens Krauss; a 1958 BBC recording of Frederick Delius’s opera Koanga; and a single commercial recording of Puccini duets with Welsh tenor Richard Lewis under the baton of John Barbirolli, who also led her Covent Garden debut. All of these precious documents are sampled on this episode. She was struck down with cancer in her early forties and died prematurely at the age of 49. And yet listening to her recordings, one is struck by the emotional power of her utterance, the firmness of her vocal technique, and the bloom of her exquisite voice. Lenora Lafayette deserves a place among the greatest singers of her generation.

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 74. Lucretia West (Black History Month 2021 II)



The great African American contralto Lucretia West, born on 13 November 1922, is one of the great singers of German Lieder in general and of the music of Gustav Mahler in particular. Though she occasionally appeared in her native country, the majority of her life and career was spent in Germany. She was a favorite of some of the greatest conductors of the 1950s and 1960s, including Hans Knappertsbusch, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Carl Schuricht, and Hermann Scherchen. Her collaborations with them are all featured in this episode. Her recorded legacy is not large, but it is impressive, and includes releases of Schubert Lieder and two albums of spirituals which are among the most significant contributions to that genre. Though she did not sing much opera, I did uncover a 1958 recording with Ferdinand Leitner of Carl Orff’s realization of Claudio Monteverdi’s Orpheus, in which she sings the role of La Messaggera (Die Botin in Orff’s German-language version). All of her work reveals a singer of enormous expressivity and makes an interesting contrast with that of her near-contemporary, Carol Brice.

I had originally intended to post this extra episode as a bonus for my Patreon supporters, but I decided that all of my Black History Month episodes should be available to all interested listeners, whether they are Patreon subscribers or not. Please enjoy, and please pass on the word to all persons who might enjoy learning more about some of the lesser-known African American singers of past generations. And, if you are so inspired, please do consider becoming a monthly supporter on Patreon. I’m so happy that you are here to join in the celebration of this magnificent artist!

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 73. Carol Brice (Black History Month 2021 I)



Countermelody’s Black History Month celebration for 2021 begins with the great African American contralto Carol Brice (1916-1985) who had a distinguished and varied career singing everything from Bach to Harold Arlen. I first heard Carol Brice many years ago in her recording of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” which exemplifies all her musical virtues: simplicity and directness of utterance, lack of sentimentality, and deep identification with both text and music. Add to this a voice of such depth and refinement and a technique so secure that she is almost without equal. From her early career outings as the first African American to win the coveted Naumburg Award, through her appearances on the Broadway stage and in Porgy and Bess, Carol Brice brought an emotional honesty to her performances such as is rarely encountered in any field of genre. On this episode I feature her in a wide range of live and commercial recordings from Marc Blitzstein’s Regina to concert pieces by Brahms and Mahler, focusing in particular on a matchless 1947 song recital with her brother Jonathan Brice as her collaborator. I also feature her husband, the baritone Thomas Carey in a pair of recordings. I hope you will be as moved by Carol Brice’s singing as I am every time I hear this radiant artist.

This week’s bonus episode for my Patreon supporters features another great African American contralto, Lucretia West, who spent a significant portion of her life and career in Germany, where she was celebrated for her performances of Mahler and Lieder in particular.

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 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 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 23. Lawrence Winters and Robert McFerrin (Black History Month IV)



Episode 23 – Winters and McFerrin: A Tale of Two Baritones (Black History Month IV)

Today’s episode, the fourth in a sequence honoring African American singers, this one pays tribute to two great baritones, Lawrence Winters (1915-1965) and Robert McFerrin (1921-2006). Winters was a trailblazer on records and on stage at the New York City Opera and in major German opera houses; while McFerrin, the first African American male to sing a major role at the Metropolitan Opera, made his debut in 1955 as Amonasro in Aida three weeks after Marian Anderson made history on the same stage as the first black solo singer to perform there. This episode examines the early life and rise to prominence of each singer; the role that Porgy played in the careers of both singers; and each one’s credentials as a Verdi baritone par excellence. Highlights include an excerpt from William Grant Still’s opera Troubled Island, which premiered at NYCO in 1949, and a memorable cache of spirituals recordings from both singers. Guest aritsts heard on this episode include Todd Duncan, Camilla Williams, Marie Powers, Maria Stader, Adele Addison, Laurel Hurley, and Grace de la Cruz.

Countermelody is a new 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 also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 22. Gloria Davy (Black History Month III)



Today we examine the fascinating and somewhat frustrating career of Gloria Davy (1931-2012). Yet another African American singer who found greater opportunity abroad than in the United States, Davy has the distinction of being the first Black singer to perform the title role of Verdi’s Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, which role served as her debut in 1958. Another early career success came when she replaced Leontyne Price as Bess in an international tour of Porgy and Bess. Her earliest recordings, both live and studio, reveal a voice of uncommon beauty with an interpretive sensitivity to match. A superb musician, Davy also sang contemporary music throughout her career, including important premieres by Hans Werner Henze and Karlheinz Stockhausen. One must ask the question, however, if her voice would have been better served had she not turned to sung Bess and Aida so early in her career, but had instead had access to roles such as Anna Bolena, which she sang brilliantly at Town Hall in New York in 1957. The episode includes a rare airing of Davy’s 1956 album of Spirituals, in arrangements by the lesser-known African American composer Julia Perry and excerpts from her recordings of Shulamit Ran’s O the Chimneys, on poems by Nelly Sachs, and the 1972 revision of Stockhausen’s momentous Momente.

Countermelody is a new 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 also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 21. Charles Holland (Black History Month II)



Today’s episode, the second in my Black History Month series, is a tribute to the extraordinary African American tenor Charles Holland (1909-1987) whose career spanned more than four decades. Early appearances as a vocalist with the band of Luther Henderson and the Hall Johnson Negro Choir led to his Hollywood film debut and to appearances on the Broadway stage. In 1949, frustrated with the lack of career opportunities for an African American tenor, Charles Holland departed for Europe, where he enjoyed a distinguished career. Late in his life he experienced an extraordinary career resurgence through an association with American conductor Dennis Russell Davies, which led to his belated Carnegie Hall solo recital debut in 1982 at the age of 73, as well as serving as the inspiration for Laurie Anderson’s surprise 1981 pop hit, O Superman. Musical excerpts include live and studio recordings over more than 40 years and a wide swath of genres.

Countermelody is a new 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 also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com


Episode 20. Muriel Smith (Black History Month I)



This week kicks off my series of Black History Month episodes, in which I pay homage to some less well-remembered African American singers who nonetheless made an enormous impact in the world of music. This week I am honored to bring to you the great mezzo-soprano Muriel Smith (1923-1985) who, among other important contributions, premiered the title role of Carmen Jones on Broadway in 1943. We examine her work in musicals and films as well as pop music and opera. Her eclecticism, her ability to color her voice in a way uniquely suited to the wide range of roles she undertook, as well as her deep connection to text and expression, mark her as an artist of the highest caliber. Featured is a rare 1955 Philips recording of spirituals represents Muriel Smith at her artistic and interpretive peak.

Countermelody is a new 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 also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com