Category Archives: Spirituals

Episode 264. Rescue Mission (Forgotten Divas Edition)



During Black History Month this year I featured a group of five exceptional singers I dubbed, for lack of a better term, “Forgotten Divas.” Each of these women, sopranos Delcina Stevenson, Annabelle Bernard, and Veronica Tyler, mezzo-soprano Gwendolyn Killebrew, and jazz singer Ethel Ennis, represents the peak of achievement in each of their respective fachs. These proved to be among the most popular and far-reaching of my recent episodes. At that time, I promised my listeners that I would continue to seek out rare recordings of each of these women and that, if and when such material surfaced, I would be sure to share it with my listeners. True to my promise, I present a brand-new episode featuring (for the most part) newly discovered material with each of these singers: a live Washington Opera Ariodante from 1971 and a live Carnegie Hall Orfeo ed Euridice from 1967, both with Veronica Tyler; live original language performances of Puccini’s Il tabarro and Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète from the stage of the Deutsche Oper Berlin which starred Annabelle Bernard; Gwendolyn Killebrew singing the Habanera from Carmen, one of her most celebrated roles, as well as the Waldtaube in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder; rare studio recordings of Delcina Stevenson singing Bach and Vivaldi from the early 1970s; and live material featuring Ethel Ennis over the course of nearly fifty years of her career, 1958 through 2005. As more of this material resurfaces, I will present further episodes of this new “Rescue Mission” series featuring both these singers and others I have already featured on the podcast, performing material that adds to our understanding and appreciation of their 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 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 260. Robert McFerrin Revisited



In the very first season of Countermelody I presented an episode which featured both Lawrence Winters and Robert McFerrin, two of the most significant baritones of the twentieth century, and both trail-blazing African American singers. Last week I revisited the life, career, and recordings of Lawrence Winters, and this week, as a companion to that episode, I present today his contemporary Robert McFerrin (19 March 1921 – 24 November 2006), the first African American male to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. He made his first appearance with the company as Amonasro in Aida on Thursday January 27, 1955, twenty days after Marian Anderson’s legendary debut there. McFerrin sang only ten performances of three roles under the banner of the Met, eight of them in the house, and two on tour. His final performance there, also as Amonasro, took place almost exactly two years after his debut there. Five months later in June 1957, McFerrin went into the studios of Riverside Records, and, accompanied by the pianist Norman Johnson, and over the course of two days, recorded this legendary album of spirituals, his only solo album, which is heard in its entirety in this episode. I am not alone in considering this a classic of the genre. My presentation of all fourteen tracks of this album is supplemented by three recordings that McFerrin made in 1946 for the short-lived Sunbeam Records label, the brainchild of composer and arranger Marl Henderson Young, who provides the accompaniments. At the other end of the spectrum is a guest appearance that McFerrin, Sr. made on a 1990 recording by his son, superstar singer, composer, and arranger Bobby McFerrin. I also feature a recently unearthed live recording of McFerrin singing Amonasro live in Napoli in 1956, as well as a moving recording of McFerrin performing live in Washington DC in 1995, after having suffered a debilitating stroke that left him virtually unable to speak. Nevertheless, the song, however compromised, was still in his heart.

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.