My Lost Kentucky Home

By Roger Neil

Sound of the Hound guest blogger
I’ve been listening to recordings made in the 1930s and early 40s by the black American contralto, Marian Anderson. She’s one of my very favourite singers, not only among altos, and one of the finest songs on the CD is her rendition of Stephen Foster’s ‘My Old Kentucky Home’.

marian anderson

It seems such a pity that so many of Foster’s songs – which include ‘Campdown Races’, ‘Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair’, ‘Oh! Susannah’, ‘Old Folks at Home’ (also known as ‘Swanee River’), ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ and ‘Old Black Joe’ – are no longer deemed PC in modern America and have fallen out of the repertoire.

Impoverished, Foster died in Manhattan in 1864, aged just 37. America’s Schubert!

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Top 10 Aussie Sopranos

By Roger Neil

Sound of the Hound guest blogger
Someone started a thread on the unofficial BBC Radio 3 message boards asking for nominations for the top ten sopranos.

It seemed to me that the emerging lists were filled with the usual suspects, and since I’m currently in the process (with Tony Locantro) of finishing up a 4 x CD set for Decca Australia entitled ‘From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record’, this is the list I offered:

Melba as Rosina

Nellie Melba
Frances Alda
Elsa Stralia
Florence Austral
Margherita Grandi
Marjorie Lawrence
Sylvia Fisher
Joan Hammond
Elsie Morison
Joan Sutherland

What a team. Other nominations?

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Florrie Forde’s lost Blue Plaque

By Roger Neil

In 2006 I proposed to English Heritage that they put up one of their Blue Plaques in London to the music hall legend, Florrie Forde. They were enthused and started the apparently long and arduous task of researching her life and work and homes.

Florrie was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1876 and ran away from home at sixteen to Sydney to go on the stage. There she was seen by a British star of the day who was touring Australia, GH Chirgwin and, encouraged by him, moved to London, where she made her debut at three separate halls on the same evening.

Her inexhaustible vocal power and engaging personality equipped her ideally to become queen of the music hall chorus-song – amongst them “Down at the Old Bull and Bush”, “Hold your hand out, naughty boy”, “She’s a lassie from Lancashire”, “Oh!Oh! Antonio”, “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag”, “Daisy Bell” (Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…), “I do like to be beside the seaside”, “Fair, Fat and Forty” and many more. She was also a famous Principal Boy in panto and starred in the first Royal Variety Performance in 1912.
Florrie Forde died in Aberdeen in April 1940 after entertaining wounded sailors. What a trouper. In his curmudgeonly poem, “Death of an Actress”, Louis MacNeice recalled her “elephantine shimmy” and “sugared wink”.
Here she is, very movingly, in the flesh:

http://youtu.be/oYWygJSetbA

Now, six years on from my original proposal, English Heritage has just dropped her from their shortlist, with the explanation that their budget has been cut and that anyway she lived mostly at Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex. While she was working? I don’t think so.

And what took them six years to discover this? No wonder their budget has been slashed.

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The arrival of wire-less

By Roger Neil

I found this interview with Guglielmo Marconi in Leslie Baily’s BBC Scrapbooks. It was conducted in 1896 shortly after Marconi had installed a transmitter on the roof of the GPO and a receiver in a building on the Thames Embankment, 500 yards away.

 
“Was the message quite clearly received?” asked the American reporter.
“Quite clearly.”
“And do these waves really pass through things?”
“I am forced to believe the waves will penetrate anything and everything.”
“Won’t fog prevent them?”
“No, sir, nothing prevents them.”
“Do you mean to say, Mr Marconi, that I could send my report of this interview from London to New York?”
“Please remember wireless is a new field. With regard to the future, so far as I can see it does not present any impossibilities to signal to New York.”

Wire-less communication. One of the most important inventions of the past 100+ years?

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Nellie Melba and The Star Spangled Banner

The Hound is pleased to welcome our newest contributor Roger Neill

 

 

 By Roger Neill

As we all know, a vital ability in life is to respond creatively to an unforeseen threat quickly and decisively.

The great Australian diva, Nellie Melba, was set to sing Rosina in The Barber of Seville in San Francisco in 1898. Nothing unusual about that. It was one of her regular and best roles.

The problem was that the opera is set in Spain and, at that moment, Spain was threatening to invade and lay claim to Cuba. War appeared imminent and anti-Spanish feeling in the USA was running high. At the performance, although Melba herself was treated courteously by the audience, the barber, Figaro, was roundly booed.

What to do?

It so happens that in Act 2 there is a singing lesson where the composer, Rossini, allows Rosina to perform a song of her own choosing “ad libitum”. In San Francisco, the piano was pushed on stage, and Melba, a fine pianist, accompanied herself singing one of America’s favourite songs of the day, Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks at Home”. And, when the applause had died down a little, she followed up immediately with “The Star Spangled Banner”.

A local reporter noted: “People rose in their seats and cheered themselves hoarse.” The audience wept – the diva with them. Problem solved.

Sadly there are no recordings by her of those songs, nor of The Barber of Seville, so here she is singing (dazzlingly) the Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust in 1905

 

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