Tag Archives: Folk Songs

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 123. Lois Marshall (Great Canadian Singers)



Today is my first episode of the New Year, and the first in my three-part series this month on Great Canadian Singers. It is my contention that my first subject, Lois Marshall (1925-1997), is one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. If you haven’t heard of her (which is entirely possible, given the vagaries of posthumous fame and reputation), you are in for an enormous treat. Possessed of a rare musical scrupulousness, an interpretive honestly, directness, and integrity, as well as a finely-honed dramatic sensibility, Lois Marshall, in a better world, would have graced the world’s operatic stages. Alas, she was stricken with polio as a child, and though she managed to gain the ability to walk, staged opera was a genre which she only rarely attempted. Yet she worked with the world’s greatest conductors, among them Toscanini, Stokowski, and Beecham, and was a recitalist celebrated the world over. This episode offers an extended yet partial glimpse of the range and variety of her artistry, and includes recordings of arias by both Purcell and Puccini (the title role of Turandot!), Bach and Beethoven, as well as a dazzling array of recital repertoire from Debussy to folk song arrangements. Fellow Canadians Maureen Forrester and Glenn Gould are also featured. In my opinion, this artist is ripe for rediscovery, and I hope that you will join me on this extraordinary journey into the life and career of Lois Marshall.

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 122. Auld Acquaintance II



Part Two of my “Auld Acquaintance” mini-series on Countermelody continues the exploitation of even more artists who have already been featured on the podcast, but in rare recordings that have only recently come into my collection. Today’s episode begins with a tribute to the German-based African American mezzo-soprano Gwendolyn Killebrew, who died on Christmas Eve at the age of 80. Featured artists in the main episode include Paul Robeson, Magda Olivero, Edda Moser, Ileana Cotrubas, Carol Brice, Margaret Price, Igor Gorin, Josephine Baker, Eidé Noréna, Alberta Hunter, Thomas Carey, Christa Ludwig, Sylvia Sass, Francisco Araiza, William Warfield, and many, many more singing everything from reggae to Rigoletto. 2021 gets a better send-off than it deserves, what with these singers and this music that will certainly help us all to approach the upcoming New Year “keeping the song in our hearts!”

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 98. John Raitt



Today I feature as part of my summer series on Great Baritones, one of the greatest Broadway baritones of all time, John Raitt (1917-2005). Wait: did I say one of the greatest? Make that possibly the greatest! Along with Alfred Drake and a handful of others, John Raitt completely redefined the Broadway leading man: strapping, robust, virile, handsome, with an operatic caliber voice and splendid acting chops to match. His creation of the role of Billy Bigelow in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s magnum opus, Carousel, turned a deeply problematic character into a sympathetic one. In this episode we hear excerpts from this role, as well as some of Raitt’s other hits (and non-hits), both on—and away from—Broadway: The Pajama Game, Oklahoma!, Annie Get Your Gun, Three Wishes for Jamie, Show Boat, and others, as well as a bit of opera! I also feature tracks from four of his solo records, recorded and released between 1955 and 1970, which include Neopolitan songs, folk songs, and pure late 60s pop as well as Broadway standards not normally associated with him. Some of his duet partners include Barbara Cook, Rosemary Clooney, Florence Henderson, Doretta Morrow, Anne Jeffreys, as well as his daughter Bonnie, herself one of the great blues singers and guitarists of the late 20th century. We also hear Bonnie’s deeply personal song “Circle Dance,” which concerns their sometimes fraught—but eventually fully reconciled—relationship. Was he really a baritone, was he a tenor masquerading as a baritone, or was he a true “baritenor”? I consider all these possibilities but leave it to my listeners to draw their own conclusions. No matter how you assess John Raitt’s voice, in the end, it sustained him through a career that lasted seven decades; it is a thrill to present him to my listeners in his full baritenorial splendor.

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 86. Cathy Berberian’s Second Hand Songs



I return to Cathy Berberian, Prima Donna of the Avant Garde (or “The Divine Miss B” as she was sometimes called in the mid-seventies) for a further exploration of her career and influence on vocalism in the twentieth century and beyond. This time around I consider her explorations outside of the avant garde, specifically the recital. Based on her 1967 recording of Beatles Arias, the conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt invited Cathy Berberian to take part in his groundbreaking 1969 period instrument recording of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. In 1969 Cathy Berberian began to perform recitals that exploited her entire stylistic and vocal range, a program which eventually became known as “From Monteverdi to The Beatles.” In 1971 her ex-husband Luciano Berio wrote a theater piece for her called Recital I (For Cathy), in which she portrayed an increasingly deranged performer who eventually descends into madness. Her interest in Reynaldo Hahn and Marcel Proust eventually led her to create a program entitled À la recherche de la musique perdue. Additional late-career recitals were called Cathy Berberian’s Second Hand Songs and Cathy Sings America. This episode features excerpts from all of those works, as well as a smattering of folk music and a recorded excerpt of her singing the title role of Carmen, a tantalizing prospect which never came to be. The episode also includes a tribute to Kathleen Ferrier, whose 109th birthday was observed this past 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.


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.