Category Archives: Protest Songs

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



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

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


Episode 95. Queer Blues and Beyond (Pride 2021)



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

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


Episode 94. Odetta (Juneteenth 2021)



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

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


Episode 91. Unforgotten (In Memoriam II)



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

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

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

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

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


Episode 90. Gone But Not Forgotten (In Memoriam I)



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

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

Pictured: Biserka Cvejić as Amneris


Episode 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 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 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 40. Sisters in Sappho [Queer Pride I]



The first of my two Queer Pride episodes is devoted to a group of pioneering lesbians in the 1970s and beyond, in both classical and pop music. Two iconic mezzo-sopranos whose careers began in the 1960s and extended through the 1990s are the Greek-American Tatiana Troyanos and Brigitte Fassbaender, daughter of the German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender. I explore the similarities and differences in the repertoire and career paths of these two unique artists, and share examples of them singing repertoire from Handel to Weill, Scarlatti to Penderecki, with particular focus on Fassbaender’s Lieder performances and Troyanos’s work in bel canto. Then I turn to key figures in the Women’s Music Movement of the 1970s, including Meg Christian, Cris Williamson, Margie Adam, Holly Near, and Deidre McCalla, while also paying tribute to those who, in turn, paved the way for them, including Janis Ian, Dusty Springfield, and Ronnie Gilbert. We also acknowledge the work of queer African American singers, including Deidre McCalla, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Toshi Reagon. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these extraordinary artists, who created a world of possibility for their musical and artistic descendants, at the same time setting standards that will stand the test of time. Vocal guest stars include Janet Baker, Ileana Cotrubas, Margaret Price, Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Arleen Augér, Cecilia Gasdia, and Reri Grist.

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.