Tag Archives: Leo Robin

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 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 51. Legitimate Broadway (Crossover Classics VII)



Today’s topic is operetta and opera on Broadway. From the early days of the Great White Way, a large amount of the musical theatre repertoire was actually operetta. I begin with a discussion of the composers of such operettas (Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml, and Sigmund Romberg, with a significant nod to Jerome Kern as well) and the singers who appeared in those works. Then I present an array of works adapted from the classical repertoire (primarily Wright and Forrest’s Song of Norway and Kismet), followed by examples of that curious hybrid, Broadway opera, including Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium and The Consul; Marc Blitzstein’s Regina; Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella; Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes’s Street Scene; and Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. A wide range of singers is included, some celebrated (Lotte Lenya, Patricia Neway, Barbara Cook, Marta Eggerth, Lawrence Tibbett), some less so (Helena Scott, Lee Venora, Fritzi Scheff, Robert Rounseville), the careers of some of whom stretch back to the beginning of the century, but all singers which straddled the fence between musicals, operetta, and opera. But rest assured: this is no dry history lesson: it’s a fast-paced romp through a fun and fascinating topic!

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 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.