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Rodgers and Hart: Sing for Your Supper

“Sing for Your Supper”, a Rodgers and Hart trio from The Boys from Syracuse is irresistibly goofy, especially when it’s done so enthusiastically by world class singers.  I couldn’t decide who did it better—the Broadway stars Rebecca Luker, Audra McDonald and Mary Testa or the opera legends Frederica von Stade, Marilyn Horne and Renee Fleming. The former is not the best sound in the world, but clearly, all of them were having a wonderful time. So, I have included them both and you get to choose. A lot of its glory comes from the vocal arrangement by Hugh Martin, who was also a composer.  He deserves a credit. Eighty plus years after he wrote that arrangement, everyone still uses it.


Rodgers and Hart: This Funny World

If you read yesterday’s entry, you won’t find it surprising that the dream that brought me to New York’s upper west side in 1978 was to write lyrics for musical theatre. I did this off and on, in obscurity, for many years. In various different workshops (ugh, that word!) I was praised by Betty Comden (bless her), critiqued by Charles Strouse (composer of Annie and Bye Bye Birdie), and excoriated by book writer Peter Stone (bless him). I did have my three minutes of unadulterated bliss when a pre-Tony Award winning Victoria Clark sang lyrics of mine as I sat in awe…but eventually I was ‘too old to be a young talent’, as a John Guare character once lamented.

I learned during this time that the collaborative process can be pretty grueling, which brings me to Rodgers and Hart. Their process: Rodgers would write and wait in disciplined frustration, Hart would drink and toil in tormented procrastination. The result was art.

Until my college sophomore year, I would have declared that the lyricists that I most knew and loved were W. S. Gilbert, Oscar Hammerstein, Tom Lehrer, Paul Simon and Cole Porter. Then one night the ‘house-masters’ of our Oberlin dorm invited me for coffee and played Ella Fitzgerald singing Rodgers and Hart. I was familiar with songs like “My Funny Valentine” and “Johnny One Note” but the rest were a revelation.

Hearing Mary Cleere Haran doing Rodgers and Hart songs upped the ante. As smooth and musical as Ella, Mary Cleere also invested her own longing and wit when she sang the material. From a show and album entitled “This Funny World”, with Richard Rodney Bennett music directing and on piano, comes today’s song (the album has a lead-in verse, the video has just the song itself).

Mary Cleere (who very sadly died from a bicycle accident at 58) was a smooth purveyor
of witty and erudite narrations in her cabaret appearances. In her obituary, Steven Holden notes an observation she made about Richard Rodgers’ two main collaborators: Hammerstein told us what we “should feel” but Lorenz Hart told us what “we did feel.” Hope you feel the feelings that I do when I listen to Mary Cleere Haran singing this musing and rueful and lovely song.

Eileen Farrell sings “Ten Cents a Dance”

About two months ago I told Claire I would finally do Song of the Day and she proposed the weeks of December 12–16 and 19–23.  So you’ve got me for the next two weeks, or maybe that should be, I’ve got you. These blogs have really represented NYFOS’s motto, No Song Is Safe From Us, and I hope in these next two weeks to continue that with a range of genres and styles and voices.

I’ve been with NYFOS since March 2001 but I’ve known the organization and the guys longer, since back in my Carnegie Hall days in the 1990’s.  During my time with NYFOS I’ve been introduced to a wealth of repertoire but I like to think that I came with my own library of songs & singers…so let’s get going.

Eileen Farrell.  I seriously hope you are not saying, “Who’s that?”  She was an America soprano whose career spanned five decades, 1940’s–1980’s, and her repertoire was much like the NYFOS motto, she could sing just about anything, and do it beautifully.  Her voice was truly remarkable, a force of nature.  To get a sampling of her range, watch the 1955 film Interrupted Melody, which starred Eleanor Parker as the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence.  Farrell supplied the singing voice.

As much as I am tempted to offer something operatic or classical, and there’s quite a bit on Youtube both video & audio, instead I am offering you her popular/jazzy side. The two tracks below are from her CD, “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” released in 1960.

I’m a huge “girl singer” fan and know all of the great and not so great voices up through today (I’m terrific at drop the needle).  Farrell easily holds her own with Ella, Rosie, Doris, Sarah, etc.  Every time I hear any of her popular song tracks I am blown away.  How did she do it and then turn around and wow you with Verdi or Strauss or Wagner?!  If you are not familiar with her, please do more research on the internet, especially if you are a young singer. I don’t have regrets but I sure wish I had heard her live.

Now get swinging with Eileen!

“Ten Cents a Dance” from the CD I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

“Old Devil Moon”

p.s.  I have a terrific backstage (at Carnegie Hall) story from 1994 that involved me and Marilyn Horne on the subject of Ms. Farrell, whom Marilyn knew very well.  Ask me about it in person.

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