Tag Archives: Xavier Cugat

Episode 97. Owen Williams and Leslie Scott: Two Forgotten Black Pop Baritones



Today I present to you two Black baritones who made their mark in Europe and the United States over the course of several decades. Leslie Scott (ca. 1920-1969), who appeared on the State Department-sponsored tour of Porgy and Bess in the 1950s, and who played Jake in the now-obscure 1959 film version of the piece, began his career as a big-band singer. About his fellow singer, bass-baritone Owen Williams, I have been unable to discover much of anything, in spite of the fact that, like his compatriot Kenneth Spencer, he was featured in German film and television in the 1950s and 1960s and also recorded extensively in the 1960s, in his case, for Philips Records. Both Williams and Scott display undeniable vocal and interpretive gifts that are sometimes obscured by other factors, such as the tackiness of the arrangements and the pervasive and unchecked plantation nostalgia of the period, especially in Germany. Close examination of the recorded legacies of both Williams and Scott provides a partial glimpse into their lives and careers, even if too much of it today remains hidden in obscurity.

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.