Saturday, March 21, 2009

Morning time and evening time ...

I have been thinking about Anne Brown, the soprano who died last week at 96. She was the first Bess in the original 1935 Broadway production of "Porgy and Bess."

That is a picture up above of Miss Brown with Todd Duncan, who sang Porgy. We do like our old atmospheric pictures on this blog! And that one is a good one.

Here is a cool poster I found of Anne Brown.

It is touching to read certain aspects of the story of Anne Brown and "Porgy and Bess." When she auditioned for George Gershwin she was singing Schubert and Brahms, and felt offended when he asked her to sing a spiritual. (She went ahead and sang one anyway.) Then apparently Gershwin loved her singing so much that he made Bess into a bigger and bigger role and that was why, eventually, he called the opera "Porgy and Bess" instead of just "Porgy."

"Porgy and Bess" is so much a part of our culture that it is impossible to imagine its title as simply "Porgy." That was the title of the book it was based on. The world owes so much to Anne Brown.

Anne Brown must have known Al Tinney, the wonderful late Buffalo jazz pianist. Because Tinney assisted Gershwin in preparing "Porgy and Bess" for Broadway. Tinney, who was only 14 then, served as the rehearsal pianist. During the actual production he had a funny little job. He was in charge of leading a goat on stage.

Here is the obit for Al that appeared in the London Independent. It does not mention the part about the goat but we used to get Al to mention that at least.

It was unfortunate that Al was not more of a talker. He would have given us such a window on those long-ago events on Broadway in 1935.

When I was in California with Leonard Pennario, I got a phone call from my friend Charlie back here in Buffalo. Charlie said: "If only you could have done a book about Al!"

I said, "Charlie, I wanted to. But Al wouldn't talk!"

You need someone who will talk to you! And though Al would sit around your house for hours and play the piano for you and drink coffee with you, he was the silent type when it came to talking.

Now they are all going, the last people who remember that historic "Porgy and Bess" premiere. You would think someone would have to be tough to make it to 96, and Anne Brown was, by the sound of it. "We tough girls tough it out," an NPR tribute quotes her as saying.

You can listen to some of Anne Brown's singing on that site here.

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