Tag Archives: Marie Powers

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 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 23. Lawrence Winters and Robert McFerrin (Black History Month IV)



Episode 23 – Winters and McFerrin: A Tale of Two Baritones (Black History Month IV)

Today’s episode, the fourth in a sequence honoring African American singers, this one pays tribute to two great baritones, Lawrence Winters (1915-1965) and Robert McFerrin (1921-2006). Winters was a trailblazer on records and on stage at the New York City Opera and in major German opera houses; while McFerrin, the first African American male to sing a major role at the Metropolitan Opera, made his debut in 1955 as Amonasro in Aida three weeks after Marian Anderson made history on the same stage as the first black solo singer to perform there. This episode examines the early life and rise to prominence of each singer; the role that Porgy played in the careers of both singers; and each one’s credentials as a Verdi baritone par excellence. Highlights include an excerpt from William Grant Still’s opera Troubled Island, which premiered at NYCO in 1949, and a memorable cache of spirituals recordings from both singers. Guest aritsts heard on this episode include Todd Duncan, Camilla Williams, Marie Powers, Maria Stader, Adele Addison, Laurel Hurley, and Grace de la Cruz.

Countermelody is a new podcast devoted to the glories 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 also visit the Countermelody website for updates, additional content, and to pledge your support. www.countermelodypodcast.com