Episode 45. Muriel Smith (Crossover Classics I)

Episode 45. Muriel Smith (Crossover Classics I)

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For the first of my Black History Month episodes back in February, I did a program featuring the extraordinary artist Muriel Smith, who in 1943, while still a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, created the title role in Oscar Hammerstein II’s Carmen Jones, which used George Bizet’s opera as the springboard for a hybrid musical featuring an all-Black cast. After several other Broadway appearances (including in a revival of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock, Muriel Smith moved to London, where she was featured in the “exotic” roles in the London premieres Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I. For several years she was the toast of London, appearing on records, on radio, on television, and in concert, as well as singing Bizet’s gypsy in performances of Carmen at Covent Garden in 1957. Most of the currently extant examples of Smith’s singing are of popular music, which she performed with her unique blend of bel canto precision and pinpoint interpretive accuracy. I have recently gotten my hands on numerous rare 78s of Smith’s mid-1950’s pop records, as well as her 1953 EP, I’m in the Mood for Love, all of which are featured on this episode. I also share examples of her famous turns in musicals, capped with a rare recording of her singing Hugo Wolf’s “Nimmersatte Liebe.” Two excerpts from her 1955 Songs of Christmas 45 render this episode a veritable Christmas in July celebration! Musical guest stars include, among others, Marc Blitzstein, Georges Auric, Harvey Fuqua, Auyar Hosseini, Franz Waxman, Luther Saxon, Martin and Blane, Julian Bream, and the extraordinary Angela Morley.

RECORDINGS HEARD IN THIS EPISODE


Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: Bali Hai (South Pacific). With The Drury Lane Theatre Orchestra conducted by Reginald Burston

A still from the original 1943 Broadway production of Carmen Jones. I suspect that the two women in the photo are June Hawkins and Jessica Russell and that the two men are Dick Montgomery and Randall Steplight,
who all appear in the cast recording.

Georges Bizet, Oscar Hammerstein II: The Cards Don’t Lie (Carmen Jones). With June Hawkins, Jessica Russell, Urylee Leonardos, Ethel White, Sibol Cain; Joseph Littau, conductor

Georges Bizet, Oscar Hammerstein II: Final Scene (Carmen Jones). With Luther Saxon (Joe); Orchestra conducted by Lynn Murray (Ford Theater radio broadcast 16 November 1947)

(L to R): Howard Da Silva, Muriel Spark, and Leonard Bernstein, in a publicity shot for the
1947 revival of Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock.

Marc Blitzstein: Mamasha Goose (Goloopchik). With Marc Blitzstein, piano

The stunningly handsome Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964)
Betta St. John, Muriel Smith, and Peter Grant in South Pacific , London, Drury Lane Theatre, December 1951
(Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: Happy Talk (South Pacific). With Reginald Burston; The Drury Lane Theatre Orchestra

A souvenir program booklet from the West End production of Bet Your Life.

Charles Zwar, Kenneth Leslie-Smith: I Love Him As He Is (Bet Your Life). With orchestra conducted by Frank Cordell. Bet Your Life was a 1952 musical which starred Julie Wilson and Sally Ann Howes.

Walter Crisham, Katherine Kath, Tutte Lemkow, and Muriel Smith in Moulin Rouge (1952)

Georges Auric, Jacques Larue, Paul Dehn: It’s April Again (aka The Song from Moulin Rouge). With orchestra conducted by Lambert Williamson

April Olrich, photographed by the Australian photographer David Moore (1927-2003), London 1952.

Excerpt from The Battle of the River Plate (1956, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger). The film stars Anthony Quayle, Ian Hunter, and Peter Finch, as well as various warships that were listed as actors at the beginning of the film. The movie is dreary beyond belief, but features on at-shore moment in which Muriel Smith’s voice is dubbed into the body of a sultry (and light-skinned) lounge singer named Dolores, played by April Olrich (1931-2014), who is sexually harassed by one of the patrons as she attempts to sing her song.

April Olrich in a still from The Battle of the River Plate.
Harvey Fuqua (1929-2010). Harvey Fuqua founded the seminal doo-wop group The Moonglows, was an executive at Motown Records in its early days, and recorded extensively, including with the magnetic Etta James.
He was also a vital figure in the career of Marvin Gaye.

Harvey Fuqua, Alan Freed: Sincerely. With Wally Stott [Angela Morley] and His [Her] Orchestra

Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton: Body and Soul. Wally Stott [Angela Morley] and His [Her] Orchestra. Personnel for these sessions included Tommy Whittle, Bill Griffiths, Ted Thorne, Jack Goddard, Dave Stephenson, Alan Franks, Bill McGuffie, Joe Muddel, Tony Kinsey, and Bert Wheedon.

Franz Waxman, Jay Livingston, Ray Evans: Tonight My Love. With Wally Stott [Angela Morley] and His [Her] Orchestra

Hoagy Carmichael, Ned Washington: The Nearness of You. With Wally Stott [Angela Morley] and His [Her] Orchestra. (Same personnel as Body and Soul)

Angela Morley: Reverie for Violin and Strings. Geoffrey Allen, violinist

Auyar Hosseini, Norman Gimbel: Climb Up the Wall. With Wally Stott [Angela Morley] and His [Her] Orchestra. The song was first sung in 1954 by Eydie Gorme as the B-side to her recording of “Frenesi” before Muriel recorded it in 1955. It was a charting single on the British pop charts for Yana (née Pamela Guard) (1931-1989), a British-born singer, when the song was featured in the 1956 Columbia Pictures imperialist epic Zarak, which starred Victor Mature, Michael Wilding, and Anita Ekberg.

Paul Mann, Stephan Weiss, Kim Gannon: Make Love to Me. With Wally Stott [Angela Morley] and His [Her] Orchestra (same personnel as Body and Soul)

Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane: Love. With Wally Stott [Angela Morley] and His [Her] Orchestra

Muriel Smith and John Constable, with whom she concertized in the UK in the 1950s

Hugo Wolf: Nimmersatte Liebe (Mörike-Lieder). Accompanist and performance details unknown

George M. Fraser, Peter Howard: The World Walked into My Heart (The Crowning Achievement). With orchestra conducted by Paul Dunlap

Traditional: Away in a Manger. With Wally Stott [Angela Morley] and His [Her] Orchestra

Julian Bream

Robert MacGimsey: Sweet Little Jesus Boy. With Julian Bream, guitar

Traditional Spiritual, arr. Roland Hayes: Li’l Boy. With Peter Knight and His Orchestra

Johannes Brahms: Wiegenlied. With Peter Knight and His Orchestra

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