Tag Archives: Du Bose Heyward

Episode 246. Previn Moore Introduces Camilla Williams and Janet Williams



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.


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 204. Roberta Alexander Sings America



Posting a few days early in celebration of the Fourth of July and in further recognition of the beloved American soprano Roberta Alexander, whose birthday we celebrated on Countermelody last March. Ms. Alexander has made a number of exquisite recordings over the years, many of them for the small Dutch label Etcetera. Many of these releases feature songs by the greatest American composers: Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Samuel Barber, as well as two releases featuring light classical and Broadway songs. The recordings range in date from 1976 (a live performance of Ives at the Holland Festival, in honor of the American Bicentennial) through 2009 (a live performance of Roberta as Maria in Porgy and Bess conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt). We also hear material by Berlin, Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Alec Wilder, Bock and Harnick, John Jacob Niles, and Tom Lehrer, accompanied by pianists Reinbert de Leeuw, Roger Vignoles, Alfred Heller, Brian Masuda, Tan Crone, and David Triestram and conductors Kees Bakels and Edo de Waart. Throughout, Roberta Alexander’s approach to this material is perfectly on target, revealing both pathos and a crackling sense of (often sardonic) humor, all grounded in a love of the music of her native country and wrapped in a red, white, and blue bow.

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 164. Mabel Mercer (Season Four Premiere)



Welcome to Season Four of Countermelody! My long-time listeners know a few things things about the podcast. First, the most important quality in a singer is not voice, but communicative skills. Second, I have posted episodes in the past on singers that I dub “voiceless wonders,” artists whose primary virtue is exactly that ability to convey the meaning of the words. Third, though the music I play is primarily opera and so-called classical music, I often explore genres that move outside of those boundaries. Fourth, from the very beginning of my podcasting career, I have made it a point to highlight the careers of artists of color as well as queer artists. Throughout this season of the podcast, I will also be focusing on great singers in their later years. All these aspects are in evidence in today’s subject: Mabel Mercer (1900-1984), the doyenne of cabaret. Born to a teenage mother of Welsh heritage whose father was an itinerant African American musician, Mercer first pursued a career in British music hall. From there, she made her way to Paris, where she soon became a fixture at a nightclub run by her pal Bricktop (AKA Ada Smith). As WWII loomed on the horizon, she made her way, with the help of her friend (and possible lover) the wealthy and eccentric lesbian Joe Carstairs, to New York, where she soon established herself at the pinnacle of cabaret culture by virtue of her impeccable diction, intimacy of delivery, sense of story-telling, and unbounded repertoire of upwards of a thousand songs. Most of Mercer’s recordings represent the artist well into her middle age, when her once beautiful soprano voice had become little more than a croak. And yet, perched regally on a chair at the Café Carlyle and other nightclub venues, she gave definitive performances of nearly every song she touched. The episode offers a hint of the interpretive depth displayed in repertoire ranging from the traditional Great American Songbook (especially the songs of Cole Porter) through Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. Guest artists heard include Kaye Ballard, Bobby Short, and Julie Wilson, as well as Bricktop and Madame Spivy, both nightclub hostesses and close friends of Mercer’s who were celebrated performers themselves.

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 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 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 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!