Tag Archives: Yip Harburg

Episode 118. Stephen Sondheim & Joséphine Baker



Two titans of culture were in the news this past week for very different reasons. Just as I was publishing last week’s episode came the news that Stephen Sondheim had died at the age of 91 a few hours earlier. Today’s episode begins with a by-no-means-exhaustive tribute to the composer-lyricist, whose work completely changed the face of the so-called Broadway and who is responsible for two of my very favorite stage works of all time, Follies and Sweeney Todd. Second, the great French-American artiste Joséphine Baker was inducted this week into the Panthéon in Paris, the first American and the first person of color to be afforded this honor. I have been an undying fan of La Baker since I first encountered her during my childhood, first in the pages of Time magazine and second, nearly fifteen years later, on an astonishing PBS television special. While I touch, as one must, upon her enormous cultural importance and significance, the focus today is on her prowess as musician, singer, and showperson. I feature excerpts from her first recording session in 1926 through her final stage appearance in April 1975, just days before her death. Though these two icons shared little common ground, their individual importance simply cannot be overestimated.

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 116. Pop Songs by Lieder Singers



This week I feature nearly a century’s worth of recordings of pop music by singers who also, and in some cases primarily, were great singers of art song. Many of my favorite singers figure into the mix, including Hermann Prey (who was the inspiration for this episode), Grace Bumbry, Helen Donath, Roberta Alexander, Elly Ameling, Peter Schreier, Lotte Lehmann, Gérard Souzay, Brigitte Fassbaender, Bryn Terfel, Richard Tauber, José van Dam, Peter Schreier, Leontyne Price, Donald Gramm, and many, many others. They perform everything from Broadway standards to jazz to Deutsche Schlager to tangos to the Great American Songbook to 80s power ballads. This episode was such a joy to put together and I hope that you will enjoy this cornucopia of vocal and interpretive bounty.

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 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 83: Frühlingslieder [Spring Songs]



Dear listeners, it is Easter Sunday. While we are strictly non-sectarian at Countermelody, I did want to offer a program of spring favorites to welcome in the earth’s rebirth. (I also had to scramble to create a “filler” episode due to having lost two days of work this week after receiving my first jab on Wednesday.) Hence today’s offering: a Blumenstrauss of songs celebrating the beloved season of spring. I decided to limit today’s selections exclusively to song, omitting opera, operetta, and oratorio, but somewhat arbitrarily including songs from musicals amidst the classical and pop offerings. Even so, what a lineup of stars today: everyone from Mabel Mercer to Jan DeGaetani, from Hans Hotter to Dionne Warwick, from Georgia Brown to Roberta Alexander, from Kirsten Flagstad to Gordon MacRae. We hear composers ranging from Alec Wilder to Franz Schubert, from Milton Babbitt to Burt Bacharach, and from Hugo Wolf to Tom Lehrer. May these songs and songsters help us to welcome in the long-awaited spring!

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 81. Happy Songs (straight up)



This week I offset the gloom of last week’s music with straight-up joy. No gimmicks, no goofiness, no weird accents. Whether the composer is Giuseppe Verdi, Ralph Benatzky, Aaron Copland, Oleta Adams, or Harold Arlen, and whether sung by Nancy Wilson, Dorothy Maynor, Tina Turner, Maria Callas, Max Hansen, Conchita Supervia, Barbra Streisand, Mahalia Jackson, Lisa Della Casa, or the Pointer Sisters, all today’s selections are guaranteed to make you feel a little lighter, a little more joyous. And in today’s continuing climate of pandemic uncertainty, who doesn’t need a little more of that?

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 71. Eidé Noréna



Kaja Eidé Noréna (1884-1968, née Karoline Hansen), the Norwegian lyric-coloratura soprano, is one of the greatest singers of her generation, and nearly forgotten today. She made her concert debut at the age of 19 and in 1907 began her operatic career as Amor in Orfeo ed Euridice. In 1909 she married the actor Egil Eide, through whose coaching she became celebrated for her dramatic portrayals. Under her married name Kaja Eide she became one of the Norway’s most famous singers, though her career was essentially a provincial one until, mid-career, she restudied her technique and rebuilt her voice, which led to her La Scala debut as Gilda under the baton of Arturo Toscanini (and under her new professional name, Eide Norena). She went on to an international career, performing in the world’s most celebrated opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, the Salzburg Festival, and, particularly, the Paris Opéra. Her repertoire was a wide one, ranging from Ophélie to Desdemona, and her vocal technique was solid to the point of near-perfection, her legato singing being particularly remarkable. What sets her apart, and what makes her one of my favorite singers, is her profoundly musical interpretations allied to her keen dramatic sense. The majority of the recordings featured on the episode are from the 1930s. Noréna retired in 1938 and spent the remainder of her life in Switzerland, where she died in 1968. Noréna is, for me, everything that a great singer should be, and it is a particular honor for me to feature her on the podcast.

A bonus episode posted today on my Patreon page (www.patreon.com/countermelody) features Noréna in the role of Juliette in Gounod’s opera, including both live and studio recordings of duets with Charles Hackett and Gaston Micheletti.

And a link to the article about Noréna that I wrote in 2007 for my long-defunct blog: www.counterleben.blogspot.com/2007/07/fairy-from-ice.html

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 55. Season Two Teaser



This week represents the limbo between the first and second seasons of Countermelody. I have been collating ideas for programs for the coming year and I have some short snippets representing singers and topics that we’ll be encountering there. We begin the episode with Francisco Araiza, who celebrates his 70th birthday on October 4th. And we conclude the episode celebrating the live of Helen Reddy, whose song “I Am Woman” formed the soundtrack to the burgeoning Women’s Movement in the 1970s. In between I present short clips of some of my favorite singers who will be featured in upcoming episodes, including Anita Cerquetti, Alexander Kipnis, Russell Oberlin, Ruby Elzy, Eidé Noréna, Sándor Kónya, Heather Harper, Paul Robeson, Cyndi Lauper, Milada Šubrtová, Carol Brice, John Reardon, Yi-Kwe Sze, Judith Blegen, Charles Cambon, Dory Previn, Donald Gramm, Pierre Bernac, Irmgard Seefried, Lotte Lenya, Dusty Springfield, and many others. This episode is also a thank you to all listen and support the podcast in whatever ways they are able. I can’t wait to bring you the first episode of Season Two next 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. 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!