Category Archives: Black History Month

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 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