Tag Archives: Porgy and Bess

Episode 76. William Warfield (BHM 2021 IV)



This week’s subject is one of the towering figures of 20th century music: the African American bass-baritone William Warfield (1920–2002). Though he sprang to prominence as Joe in the 1951 MGM remake of Show Boat and as Porgy opposite his then-wife Leontyne Price in the US State Department-sponsored 1952 international tour of Porgy and Bess, in my opinion his greatest accomplishments were as a concert singer. This episode focuses on his performances of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, his interpretations of German lieder, and, from later in his career, his narration of Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait and the poetry of Langston Hughes. I knew William Warfield, universally known to his students and younger colleagues as “Uncle Bill,” when I was one of the accompanists in his vocal studio at the University of Illinois where I was obtaining my master’s degree. His kindness and his dedication to his craft inspired us all to give of our best. It is my privilege to celebrate the unique and multi-faceted artistry of this unforgettable and treasurable man.

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 73. Carol Brice (Black History Month 2021 I)



Countermelody’s Black History Month celebration for 2021 begins with the great African American contralto Carol Brice (1916-1985) who had a distinguished and varied career singing everything from Bach to Harold Arlen. I first heard Carol Brice many years ago in her recording of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” which exemplifies all her musical virtues: simplicity and directness of utterance, lack of sentimentality, and deep identification with both text and music. Add to this a voice of such depth and refinement and a technique so secure that she is almost without equal. From her early career outings as the first African American to win the coveted Naumburg Award, through her appearances on the Broadway stage and in Porgy and Bess, Carol Brice brought an emotional honesty to her performances such as is rarely encountered in any field of genre. On this episode I feature her in a wide range of live and commercial recordings from Marc Blitzstein’s Regina to concert pieces by Brahms and Mahler, focusing in particular on a matchless 1947 song recital with her brother Jonathan Brice as her collaborator. I also feature her husband, the baritone Thomas Carey in a pair of recordings. I hope you will be as moved by Carol Brice’s singing as I am every time I hear this radiant artist.

This week’s bonus episode for my Patreon supporters features another great African American contralto, Lucretia West, who spent a significant portion of her life and career in Germany, where she was celebrated for her performances of Mahler and Lieder in particular.

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.


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 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!

 


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


Episode 7: Janet Williams, Part I: No Accidents



Episode 7Janet Williams, Part I: No Accidents. I am particularly excited to present the first of a three-part interview with the distinguished American soprano and pedagogue Janet Williams, who also happens to be one of my dearest friends. We met when we were both apprentice artists at the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. Since then Janet established herself as one of the premiere lyric coloratura sopranos of her generation and is now highly respected as a pedagogue, clinician, and mentor. In this portion of our discussion, we speak about Janet’s formative years in Detroit and how she found her way into the opera world, despite an early interest in gospel singing and the desire of becoming a backup singer à la The Supremes. Particular attention is paid to her tutelage under the distinguished African American soprano and civil rights icon Camilla Williams (as Janet points out, no relation!) As usual, copious musical excerpts are sprinkled throughout the interview.

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