Category Archives: Pop Icons

Episode 69. Voiceless Wonders: An Introduction



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. And please head to my Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available.


Episode 65: 1935 (HB2U, Mommie Dearest!)



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available, including a new extra episode further exploring today’s topic.


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



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!

 


Episode 55. Season Two Teaser



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 54. Transatlantic Crossover (Crossover Classics IX)



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 52. Operaish Broadway (Crossover Classics VIII)



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

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!

 


Episode 49. Eileen Farrell (Crossover Classics V)



The American dramatic soprano Eileen Farrell (1920–2002) was one of the finest and most versatile singers the United States has ever produced. Her singing career lasted more than fifty years, and this episode covers the entire chronological range of that career, from her early work as a radio singer in the 1940s to her final pop albums in the 1990s. While the episode focuses on her crossover work (and includes work by, among others, Harold Arlen, Jule Styne, Alec Wilder, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, as heard on two of her lesser-known pop albums with Percy Faith and the late André Previn), we also sample her opera and concert work, with examples from Verdi and Wagner, to Debussy and Charpentier, to Barber and Menotti. A late reunion with her frequent collaborator Leonard Bernstein caps the episode. In all her singing Farrell combines ease of delivery and a relaxed, insouciant response to the words and music with a vocal and interpretive precision that inevitably strikes a bullseye. Bow down to the Queen of Crossover, nay, the Queen of Song!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” Occasional guests from the “business” (singers, conductors, composers, coaches, and teachers) lend their distinctive insights. At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available only to Patreon supporters are currently available!


Episode 45. Muriel Smith (Crossover Classics I)



For the first of my Black History Month episodes back in February, I did a program featuring the extraordinary artist Muriel Smith, who in 1943, while still a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, created the title role in Oscar Hammerstein II’s Carmen Jones, which used George Bizet’s opera as the springboard for a hybrid musical featuring an all-Black cast. After several other Broadway appearances (including in a revival of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, Muriel Smith moved to London, where she was featured in the “exotic” roles in the London premieres Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I. For several years she was the toast of London, appearing on records, on radio, on television, and in concert, as well as singing Bizet’s gypsy in performances of Carmen at Covent Garden in 1957. Most of the currently extant examples of Smith’s singing are of popular music, which she performed with her unique blend of bel canto precision and pinpoint interpretive accuracy. I have recently gotten my hands on numerous rare 78s of Smith’s mid-1950’s pop records, as well as her 1953 EP, I’m in the Mood for Love, all of which are featured on this episode. I also share examples of her famous turns in musicals, capped with a rare recording of her singing Hugo Wolf’s “Nimmersatte Liebe.” Two excerpts from her 1955 Songs of Christmas 45 render this episode a veritable Christmas in July celebration! Musical guest stars include, among others, Marc Blitzstein, Georges Auric, Harvey Fuqua, Auyar Hosseini, Franz Waxman, Luther Saxon, Martin and Blane, Julian Bream, and the extraordinary Angela Morley.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 44. Gl’amour, Part Deux: The Invaders



Aux armes, citoyens! We have received advance warning that an army of foreigners masking as French speakers are storming the artistic gates, so to speak, and attempting to usurp France’s national artistic identity. Strangely, many of the invaders are operatic tenors, though they are accompanied by a coterie of vivandières singing popular music, all in French, no matter what their native tongues. Last week’s celebration of French glamour is today compromised, sullied, and usurped by all manner of unwelcome albeit glamorous guests, led by the New Zealander Frances Alda and buttressed by the American Eleanor Steber, fresh from celebrating her birthday this past week. Some of these figures masquerade more convincingly as actual French persons, but make no mistake, whether they be deceptive Canadians (Léopold Simoneau, Raoul Jobin, Richard Verreau), interloping Belgians (André d’Arkor), unwelcome Italians (the shocking Franco Corelli, the mysterious Dalida, and the dreaded Mirella Freni), subsersive Spaniards (Miguel Villabella, Alfredo Kraus, Tony Poncet) bullying Brazilians (Elis Regina), sneaky Swedes (Nicolai Gedda), denizens of the dreaded United Kingdom (Stuart Burrows, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Annie Lennox), Germans of nefarious intent (Marlene Dietrich, Daniel Behle), questionable Australians (Albert Lance, traveling incognito), suspicious Russians (Joseph Rogatchewsky), or worst of all, Americans intent on conquest (Barbara Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Barbra Streisand, Muriel Smith, and even the spotlight-stealing Daniel Gundlach), these characters are all intent on destroying France’s language and music and must be thwarted at all costs, no matter how appealing their songs might appear to be. Finally, following the heroic actions of Georges Thill, France re-asserts her right to her own repertoire. But it seems that the damage has been done, for Natalie Dessay, Françoise Hardy, and even the formerly trustworthy Hugues Aufray, now seem only interested in singing American pop songs, albeit in French. All in all, an episode packed with intrigue, deception, and glorious singing!

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.


Episode 43. Gl’amour I (Bastille Day 2020)



Another nation, la belle France, has a birthday right around the corner, and today I hoist the Tricolore to celebrate La Fête Nationale. I had planned this episode several weeks ago but when the worldwide #BlackLivesMatter protests began, I felt the need to respond in kind with two episodes featuring music of protest and hope. Today I present the first of two consecutive episodes on French Glamour, for after all, who does Glamour better than the French? I also consider the manner in which exoticism and imperialism make an appearance in French opera in particular. I present a veritable mad rush of great French singers, all possessed of personal poise and vocal appeal. Singers range from such classical artists as Mady Mesplé (whose recent passing we belatedly acknowledge), Régine Crespin, Janine Micheau, Germaine Cernay, Emma Calvé, Renée Doria, Jennie Tourel, Denise Duval, Andrée Esposito, Germaine Féraldy, Françoise Pollet (as well as exemplary Belgian sopranos Emma Luart and Fanny Heldy) to pop singers Joséphine Baker (French by adoption!), and Maurice Chevalier. We allow such non-French interlopers as Geraldine Farrar, Giuseppe di Stefano, Grace Bumbry, Mary Lewis, Teresa Żylis-Gara, Lisette Oropesa, and my beloved Shirley Verrett, many of whom also lived extensively in France, to make their contributions in song to this celebration. And who better than the late Jessye Norman to cap the episode with her rousing rendition of La Marseillaise, as she did in 1989 for the French Bicentennial?

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great classical and opera singers of the past and present with the help of guests from the classical music field: singers, conductors, composers, coaches, agents, and voice teachers. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the interaction between singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. Please visit the Countermelody website (www.countermelodypodcast.com) for additional content. And please head to our Patreon page at www.patreon.com/countermelody to pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford.