Episode 98. John Raitt

Episode 98. John Raitt

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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.

RECORDINGS HEARD IN THIS EPISODE

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: If I Loved You (Carousel). John Raitt, Doretta Morrow, Orchestra conducted by Jay Blackton [1953]

Doretta Morrow

Gioacchino Rossini, unknown English lyricist: Largo al factotum (Il barbiere di Siviglia) [in English, unknown lyricist]. John Raitt [Unknown television show 1950s]

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: The Surrey with the Fringe on the Top (Oklahoma!) John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by Jay Blackton [1953]

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: People Will Say We’re in Love (Oklahoma!) John Raitt, Florence Henderson, Orchestra conducted by Franz Allers [1964]

Jan Clayton and John Raitt in the original Broadway production of Carousel, 1945

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: Soliloquy (Carousel). John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by George Bassman [from Highlights of Broadway,1955]

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II: The Highest Judge of All. John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by Fritz Allers [Lincoln Center revival, 1965]

Ralph Blane: My Heart’s Darlin’ (Three Wishes for Jamie). John Raitt, Anne Jeffreys, Orchestra conducted by Joseph Littau [1952]

Anne Jeffreys
John Raitt and Janis Paige onstage in The Pajama Game, 1954

Richard Adler, Jerry Ross: A New Town Is a Blue Town (The Pajama Game). John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by Harold Hastings [1954]

Doris Day and John Raitt in a publicity still for the film version of The Pajama Game, 1957

Richard Adler, Jerry Ross: Hey There (The Pajama Game). John Raitt, Rosemary Clooney [from The Lux Show, first aired 05 June 1958]

Robert Wright, George Forrest, after Alexander Borodin: Stranger in Paradise (Kismet). John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by George Bassman [from Highlights of Broadway,1955]

With Marian Anderson at the Kennedy Center Honors, 1978

Burton Lane, Yip Harburg: How Are Things in Glocca Morra (Finian’s Rainbow). John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by George Bassman [from Highlights of Broadway,1955]

Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner: They Call the Wind Maria (Paint Your Wagon). John Raitt, Orchestra and chorus conducted by Pete King [from Under Open Skies,1958]

Maurice Keller, Sail Ho! John Raitt, Orchestra and chorus conducted by Pete King [from Under Open Skies,1958]

Traditional, arr. C. Dudley King: Loch Lomond. John Raitt, Orchestra and chorus conducted by Pete King [from Under Open Skies,1958]

Cesare Bixio, English lyrics by Al Silverman: Tell Me that You Love Me [Parlami d’amore]. John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by Glenn Osser [from Mediterranean Magic, 1958]

Ernesto de Curtis, English lyrics by Kalmanoff, Hoffman: Torna a Surriento [Hold Me in Your Heart]. John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by Glenn Osser [from Mediterranean Magic, 1958]

Ruggero Leoncavallo, English words by Pat Genaro, Sunny Skyler: Mattinata [You’re Breaking My Heart]. John Raitt, Orchestra conducted by Glenn Osser [from Mediterranean Magic, 1958]

Otis Redding: Dock of the Bay; Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II: Old Man River (Show Boat). John Raitt, arranged and conducted by Joe Guercio and Bill Reddie [from Today, 1969 / The Giant, 1970]

Irving Berlin: An Old-Fashioned Wedding (Annie Get Your Gun). John Raitt, Karen Morrow [live from the Melody Top in Milwaukee, Summer 1975]

Karen Morrow

Bonnie Raitt: Circle Dance [from Longing in Their Hearts 1994]

Irving Berlin: They Say It’s Wonderful (Annie Get Your Gun). Bonnie Raitt, John Raitt [Recording session for Broadway Legend, ca. 1994]

John Raitt, Barbara Cook, Franz Allers, and William Warfield at the 1962 Show Boat recording sessions

Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II: You Are Love (Show Boat). John Raitt, Barbara Cook, Orchestra conducted by Franz Allers [1962]

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