Annette Funicello

MV5BMTkxNTgxODAwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTA4NDU2._V1._SX383_SY450_

Annette Joanne Funicello (October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013) was an American actress and singer. Beginning her professional career as a child performer at the age of twelve, Funicello rose to prominence as one of the most popular “Mouseketeers” on the original Mickey Mouse Club.[1] As a teenager, she transitioned to a successful career as a singer with the pop singles “O Dio Mio,” “Tall Paul” and “Pineapple Princess“, as well as establishing herself as a film actress, popularizing the successful “Beach Party” genre alongside co-star Frankie Avalon during the mid-1960s.

In 1992, Funicello announced that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She died of complications of the disease on April 8, 2013.[2][3] 

The Mickey Mouse Club

Funicello took dancing and music lessons as a child to overcome shyness. In 1955, the 12-year-old was discovered by Walt Disneywhen she performed as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake at a dance recital at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank, California. Disney cast her as one of the original “Mouseketeers”. She was the last to be selected, and one of the few cast-members to be personally selected by Walt Disney himself. She proved to be very popular and by the end of the first season of Mickey Mouse Club, she was receiving 6,000 letters a month, according to her Disney Legends biography.

Annette Funicello2In addition to appearing in many Mouseketeer sketches and dance routines, Funicello starred in several serials on The Mickey Mouse Club. These included Adventure in DairylandWalt Disney Presents: Annette (which co-starred Richard Deacon), and the second and third Spin and Marty serials – The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty and The New Adventures of Spin and Marty.

A proposed live-action feature Rainbow Road to Oz was to have starred some of the Mouseketeers, including Darlene Gillespie as Dorothy and Funicello as Ozma. Preview segments from the film aired on September 11, 1957 on Disneylands fourth anniversary show.[6] By then, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz had already been shown on CBS Television for the first time. Theories on why the film was abandoned include Disney’s failure to develop a satisfactory script, and the popularity of the MGM film on television. Disney ultimately replaced this film project with a new adaptation of Babes in Toyland (1961).

In a hayride scene in the Annette serial, she performed the song that launched her singing career. The studio received so much mail about “How Will I Know My Love” (lyrics by Tom Adair, music by Frances Jeffords and William Walsh[7][8]), that Walt Disney issued it as a single, and gave Funicello (somewhat unwillingly) a recording contract.[9]

Singing and acting

Funicello and Richard Tyler on The Danny Thomas Show(1959)

After the Mickey Mouse Club, she remained under contract with Disney for a time, with television roles in Zorro, Elfego Baca, andThe Horsemasters. For Zorro she played Anita Campillo in a three-episode storyline about a teen-aged girl who arrives in Los Angeles to visit a father who does not seem to exist. This role was reportedly a birthday present from Walt Disney, and the first of two different characters played opposite Guy Williams as Zorro. Annette also co-starred in Disney-produced movies such as The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, and The Monkey’s Uncle.[10]

annette-funicello-150330Although uncomfortable being thought of as a singer, Funicello had a number of pop record hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, mostly written by the Sherman Brothers and including: “Tall Paul,” “First Name Initial,” “O Dio Mio,” “Train of Love” (written by Paul Anka) and “Pineapple Princess.” They were released by Disney’s Buena Vista label. Annette also recorded “It’s Really Love” in 1959, a reworking of an earlier Paul Anka song called “Toot Sweet”; Anka reworked the song for a third time in 1962 as “Johnny’s Theme” and it opened The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on television for the next three decades. Paul Anka was noted to have a crush on her, however, Walt Disney overprotected Annette, which broke Paul’s heart. This resulted in his song “Puppy Love”, which was inspired by his hopeless romantic crush on Annette.

In an episode of the Disney anthology television series titled “Disneyland After Dark,” Funicello can be seen singing live atDisneyland. Walt Disney was reportedly a fan of 1950s pop star Teresa Brewer and tried to pattern Funicello’s singing in the same style. However, Funicello credits “the Annette sound” to her record producer, Tutti Camarata, who worked for Disney in that era. Camarata had her double-track her vocals, matching her first track as closely as possible on the second recording to achieve a fuller sound than her voice would otherwise produce.[citation needed] Early in her career, she appeared on the NBC interview program Here’s Hollywood.[9]

Funicello moved on from Disney to become a teen idol, starring in a series of “Beach Party” movies with Frankie Avalon for American International Pictures. These included Beach Party (1963), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pajama Party (1964),Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965). The wholesome image earned in these films gained her a reference in the Grease song “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

When she was cast in her first beach movie, Walt Disney requested that she only wear modest bathing suits and keep her navelcovered. However, she wore a pink two-piece in Beach Party, a white two-piece fishnet suit in the second film (Muscle Beach Party) and a blue and white bikini in the third (Bikini Beach). All three swimsuits bared her navel, particularly in Bikini Beach, where it is visible extensively during close up shots in a sequence early in the film when she meets Frankie Avalon’s “Potato Bug” character outside his tent.[11]

She and Avalon became iconic as “beach picture” stars and were re-united in 1987 for the Paramount film Back to the Beach, parodying their own surf-and-sand films two decades earlier. They toured the country as a singing act.

In 1979 Funicello began starring in a series of television commercials for Skippy peanut butter.[12]

Her autobiography, dictated to Patricia Romanowski and published in 1994, was A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story. The title was taken from a song from the Disney movie Cinderella. A made-for-TV movie based on the book, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes: The Annette Funicello Story, was made in 1995. In the final scene, the actress portraying Funicello (Eva LaRue), using a wheelchair, turns away from the camera — turning back, it is Funicello herself, who delivered a message to a group of children. During this period, she produced a line of teddy bears for the Annette Funicello Collectible Bear Company.[5] The last collection in the series was made in 2004. She also had her own fragrance called “Cello, by Annette”.

In 1992, she was inducted as a Disney Legend.[13]

Personal life

Funicello’s best friend was actress and singer Shelley Fabares. She and Fabares had been friends since they were young teenagers in a catechism class, and Fabares was a bridesmaid at Funicello’s first wedding. She was also very close to fellow Mouseketeers Lonnie Burr (she later claimed in an autobiography that he was her first boyfriend during the first season of the Mickey Mouse Club), Sharon BairdDoreen TraceyCheryl Holdridge, her “Disney” co-star, Tommy Kirk, and her “Beach” movies co-star, Frankie Avalon.

Marriages and children

Funicello was married to her first husband, Jack Gilardi, from 1965 until 1981. They had three children: Gina (b. 1966), MV5BMTkwOTQyNTY2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTc3NDU2._V1._SX293_SY450_Jack, Jr. (b. 1970), and Jason (b. 1974). In 1986, she married California harness racing horse breeder/trainer Glen Holt.[5] The couple were frequently seen at Los Alamitos Race Course and at Fairplex in Pomona in the 1980s and 1990s attending harness horse races.

In March 2011, her Encino, California home caught fire. She suffered smoke inhalation, but was otherwise unharmed.[14]

After the fire, Funicello and Holt then began living full time at the modest ranch that they purchased decades earlier, located just south of Shafter, California (north of Bakersfield). That remained her primary residence until her death.[2]

In 1987, Funicello reunited with Frankie Avalon for a series of promotional concerts to promote their film Back to the Beach. She began to suffer from dizzy spells, but kept her failing health from her friends and family. In 1992, Funicello announced that she was suffering from multiple sclerosis.[15] She had kept her condition a secret for many years, but felt it necessary to go public to combat rumors that her impaired ability to walk was the result of alcoholism. In 1993, she opened the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation.

On October 6, 2012, the CTV flagship current affairs program W5 profiled Funicello as an update on her after she had spent fifteen years out of the public eye. The profile revealed that her disease had severely damaged her nervous system; Funicello had lost the ability to walk in 2004, the ability to speak in 2009, and, at the time of the profile, required round-the-clock care to survive. In the profile, Holt and Fabares discussed Funicello’s current state, as well as the numerous medical interventions and treatments attempted to improve her condition.[16]

On April 8, 2013, Funicello died at Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, California, at the age of 70, from complications due to her multiple sclerosis.[17]Commenting on her death, Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said,

“Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mousketeer, and a true Disney Legend. She will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney’s brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent. Annette was well known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life.” [18]

Sources: Wikipedia, Youtube, IMDB.com

 

Patty Andrews

31andrews-trio-articleLarge

Patty is center in the photo

Patty Andrews, the last of the Andrews Sisters, the jaunty vocal trio whose immensely popular music became part of the patriotic fabric of World War II America, died on Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 94. Lynda Wells, a niece, confirmed the death.

With their jazzy renditions of songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B),” “Rum and Coca-Cola”and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me),” Patty, Maxene and LaVerne Andrews sold war bonds, boosted morale on the home front, performed withBing Crosby and with theGlenn Miller Orchestra, made movies and entertained thousands of American troops overseas, for whom the women represented the loves and the land the troops had left behind.

imagesPatty, the youngest, was a soprano and sang lead; Maxene handled the high harmony; and LaVerne, the oldest, took the low notes. They began singing together as children; by the time they were teenagers they made up an accomplished vocal group. Modeling their act on the commercially successful Boswell Sisters, they joined a traveling revue and sang at county fairs and in vaudeville shows. Their big break came in 1937 when they were signed by Decca Records, but their first recording went nowhere.

Their second effort featured the popular standard “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” but it was the flip side that turned out to be pure gold. The song was a Yiddish show tune,“Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand),” with new English lyrics bySammy Cahn, and the Andrews Sisters’ version, recorded in 1937, became the top-selling record in the country.

Other hits followed, and in 1940 they were signed by Universal Pictures. They appeared in more than a dozen films during the next seven years — sometimes just singing, sometimes also acting. They made their film debut in “Argentine Nights,” a 1940 comedy that starred the Ritz Brothers, and the next year appeared in three films with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello:“Buck Privates,” “In the Navy”and “Hold That Ghost.” Their film credits also include “Swingtime Johnny” (1943), “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) and the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby comedy “Road to Rio” (1947).

images-1After selling more than 75 million records, the Andrews Sisters broke up in 1953 when Patty decided to go solo. By 1956 they were together again, but musical tastes were changing and they found it hard to adapt. When LaVerne Andrews died of cancer in 1967, no suitable replacement could be found, and Patty and Maxene soon went their separate ways. Patty continued to perform solo, and Maxene joined the staff of a private college in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Patricia Marie Andrews was born on Feb. 16, 1918, in Minneapolis. Her father, Peter, was a Greek immigrant who changed his name from Andreos to Andrews when he came to America. Her mother, Olga, was Norwegian.

Like her older sisters, Patty learned to love music as a child (she also became a good tap dancer), and she did not have to be persuaded when Maxene suggested that the sisters form a trio in 1932. She was 14 when they began to perform in public.

As their fame and fortune grew, the sisters came to realize that the public saw them as an entity, not as individuals. In a 1974 interview with The New York Times, Patty explained what that was like: “When our fans used to see one of us, they’d always ask, ‘Where are your sisters?’ Every time we got an award, it was just one award for the three of us.” This could be irritating, she said with a touch of exasperation: “We’re not glued together.”

The Andrews Sisters re-entered the limelight in the early 1970s when Bette Midler releasedher own recording of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” modeled closely on theirs. It reached the Top 10, and its success led to several new compilations of the Andrews Sisters’ own hits.

pattyandrews-4_3_r536_c534The previous year, Patty Andrews had appeared in a West Coast musical called “Victory Canteen,” set during World War II. When the show was rewritten for Broadway and renamed “Over Here!,” the producers decided that the Andrews Sisters were the only logical choice for the leads. They hired Patty and lured Maxene back into show business as well. The show opened in March 1974 and was the sisters’ belated Broadway debut. It was also the last time they sang together.

The sisters got into a bitter money dispute with the producers and with each other, leading to the show’s closing in January 1975 and the cancellation of plans for a national tour. After that, the sisters pursued solo careers into the 1990s. They never reconciled and were still estranged when Maxene Andrews died in 1995.

Patty Andrews’s first marriage, to the movie producer Marty Melcher, lasted two years and ended in divorce in 1949. (Mr. Melcher later married Doris Day.) In 1951 she married Wally Weschler, who had been the sisters’ pianist and conductor and who later became her manager. They had no children. Mr. Weschler died in 2010. Ms. Andrews is survived by her foster daughter, Pam DuBois.

A final salute to the Andrews Sisters came in 1991 in the form of “Company B,” a ballet by the choreographer Paul Taylor subtitled “Songs Sung by the Andrews Sisters.” The work, which featured nine of the trio’s most popular songs, including “Rum and Coca-Cola” and, of course, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” underscored the enduring appeal of the three sisters from Minneapolis.

images-2

Sources: ROBERT BERKVIST, YouTube, IMDB.com

Marvin Hamlisch

By Robert Simonson
Playbill.com 07 Aug 2012

Marvin Hamlisch, who achieved theatre immortality as the composer of the iconic musical A Chorus Line, died Aug. 7 following a brief illness. He was 68.

Mr. Hamlisch’s other theatre works included the musicals They’re Playing Our Song, Jean Seberg, Smile, The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success. He also wrote songs for Nora Ephron‘s playImaginary Friends. His latest show, The Nutty Professor, recently opened in Tennessee. But it was with the groundbreaking A Chorus Line—which told of the frustrations and worries of a group of anonymous dancers trying out for a Broadway musical—that he made his mark as a theatre figure.

He was already famous as an all-around wunderkind when he began work onA Chorus Line. A child prodigy, he was accepted into Juilliard at the age of six—the youngest child ever to be welcomed by the august Manhattan institution. His first Broadway job was as rehearsal pianist for Funny Girlstarring Barbra Streisand—a professional relationship that would last his entire life. Producer Sam Spiegel hired him to play piano at his parties, where he made connections, leading to his writing his first film score, for “The Swimmer” starring Burt Lancaster. Many more film scores followed.

It seemed his fate to brush up against show-business legends while on his way up the ladder. He wrote songs for Liza Minnelli, worked with Judy Garland and was accompanist and straight man for Groucho Marx during a 1974-75 tour.

“The Entertainer”

Professional acknowledgment came easy in his early years. Before he was 30, he had received three Oscars, for his score and song to “The Way We Were” and his adaptations of Scott Joplin ragtime tunes in “The Sting,” which helped usher in a Joplin revival. And that was all in 1973. He began to be a regular guest on talk shows and was called “the best-known movie composer since Henry Mancini.”

Mr. Hamlisch is one of only 11 people to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. On top of this, he also won the Pulitzer Prize for A Chorus Line.Aside from director-choreographer Michael Bennett, Mr. Hamlisch was by far the most accomplished and famous artist invited to participate in the creation of A Chorus Line. The unorthodox show—a prime example of what came to be known as the “concept musical”—derived from 30 hours of taped confessions of a group of theatre gypsies and chorines. From these recordings, Bennett shaped a show about the strivings, hopes, dreams and fears of the unsung and uncelebrated members of the theatre community. The show was trail-blazing in eschewing a linear plot, dealing with contemporary issues such as homosexuality and abortion in frank terms, and lacking a single headlining star.

“One” from “Chorus Line”

Hamlisch was drafted by Bennett and paired with the fussy, eccentric lyricist Ed Kleban, a former executive at Columbia Records with no previous theatre credits. It was an odd couple pairing if there ever was one, but it produced a timeless result. The score was episodic, with each song telling the life story of one or more characters. The show included two modern classics: the hopeful “What I Did for Love,” which Kleban and Mr. Hamlisch reportedly wrote under protest, as they considered it a commercial “sell-out” number; and “One,” the show’s finale. It’s throbbing, hop-step opening vamp is one of the best known theatre anthems in musical history, and is known to millions.

“The Way We Were”

Marvin Hamlisch was born June 2, 1944, into a musical family. His father Max Hamlisch was an accordionist and band leader. He began playing piano when he was five. “I started studying music at the age of five and a half,” he remembered later. “My older sister was taking piano lessons. When her teacher left our apartment, I would get up on the piano bench and start picking out the notes that were part of my sister’s lessons.” His song “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” written while he was a teenager, was a hit for Lesley Gore in 1963.

He followed up A Chorus Line with another hit, though one of a far smaller scale. They’re Playing Our Song had lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and a book by Neil Simon. The two-character musical was based on the real-life relationship between Hamlisch and Sager, and follows the two mismatched songwriters—he is focused and all business, she is flightily and distracted—as they go through a series of bumps in forging both a professional and romantic relationship. After a tryout in Los Angeles, it ran for two-and-a-half years on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical.

 

“Tits and Ass” Chorus Line

Mr. Hamlisch’s untrammeled string of successes during the 1970s were such that he had a hard time following them up. The next 30 years of his career were something of an anti-climax. That A Chorus Line proved one of the greatest popular successes of all time, and was accorded the title of “genius work” by critics, meant no other show he composed could quite measure up.Jean Seberg, a musical about the life of the actress, failed in London and never came to New York. The Broadway runs of Smile (1986) and The Goodbye Girl (1993) were both underwhelming. Sweet Smell of Success(2002), based on the classic 1950s film about Broadway’s seamy underbelly, ran only two months.

His many film scores included “Ordinary People,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “Ice Castles,” “Take the Money and Run” and “The Informant!” He co-wrote the song “Nobody Does It Better” for the movie “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

In recent years, he composed some classical works, and frequently conducted major symphony orchestras.

Other Sources: YouTube, IMDB.com

Celeste Holm

Celeste Holm (April 29, 1917 – July 15, 2012) was an American stage, film and television actress, known for her Academy Award-winning performance in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), as well as for her Oscar-nominated performances in Come to the Stable(1949) and All About Eve (1950) and originating the role of Ado Annie in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! (1943).

Born and raised in New York City, Holm grew up as an only child. Her mother, Jean Parke, was an American portrait artist and author; her father, Theodor Holm, was a Norwegian businessman whose company provided marine adjustment services for Lloyd’s of London. Because of her parents’ occupations, she traveled often during her youth and attended various schools in Holland, France and the United States. She graduated from University High School for Girls in Chicago, where she performed in many school stage productions. She then studied drama at the University of Chicago before becoming a stage actress in the late 1930s.

Holm’s first professional theatrical role was in a production of Hamlet starring Leslie Howard. Her first role on Broadway was a small part in 1938 comedy Gloriana, which lasted five performances. Her first major Broadway part was as Mary L. in William Saroyan‘s 1940 revival of The Time of Your Life co-starring fellow newcomer Gene Kelly. The role that got her the most recognition from critics and audiences was Ado Annie in the flagship Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s Oklahoma! in 1943.

After she starred in the Broadway production of Bloomer Girl20th Century Fox signed Holm to a movie contract in 1946. She made her film debut that same year in Three Little Girls in Blue, making a startling entrance in a “Technicolor red” dress singing “Always a Lady,” a belting Ado Annie-type song, although the character was different—a lady. In 1947 she won an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in Gentleman’s Agreement. After her performance in All About Eve, however, Holm realized she preferred live theater to movie work, and only accepted a few select film roles over the following decade. The most successful of these were the comedy The Tender Trap (1955) and the musical High Society (1956), both of which co-starred Frank Sinatra. She starred as a professor-turned-reporter in New York City in the CBS television series Honestly, Celeste! (fall 1954) and was thereafter a panelist onWho Pays? (1959). She also appeared several times on ABC‘s The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom.

In My Own Little Corner

In 1958, she starred as a reporter in an unsold television pilot called The Celeste Holm Show, based on the book No Facilities for Women. Holm also starred in the musical The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall. In 1965, she played the Fairy Godmother alongside Lesley Ann Warren in the CBS production of Cinderella. In 1970-71, she was featured on theNBC sitcom Nancy, with Renne Jarrett, John Fink and Robert F. Simon. In the story line, Holm played Abby Townsend, the press secretary of the First Lady of the United Statesand the chaperon of Jarrett’s character, Nancy Smith, the President’s daughter.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Holm did more screen acting, with roles in films such as Tom Sawyer and Three Men and a Baby, and in television series (often as a guest star) such as ColumboThe Eleventh HourArchie Bunker’s Place and Falcon Crest. In 1979, she played the role of First Lady Florence Harding in the television mini-series,Backstairs at the White House. She was a regular on the ABC soap opera Loving, appearing first in 1986 in the role of Lydia Woodhouse and again as Isabelle Dwyer Alden #2 from 1991 to 1992. She last appeared on television in the CBS television series Promised Land (1996–99).

Holm received numerous honors during her lifetime, including the 1968 Sarah Siddons Award for distinguished achievement in Chicago theatre; she was appointed to the National Arts Council by then-President Ronald Reagan, appointed Knight, First Class of the Order of St. Olav by King Olav of Norway in 1979,[1] and inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1992. She remained active for social causes as a spokesperson for UNICEF, and for occasional professional engagements. From 1995 she was Chairman of the Board of Arts Horizons, a not-for-profit arts-in-education organization.

“I Can’t Say No”

In 2006, Holm was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University.[2]

Holm was a guest at the 2009 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Aberdeen, Maryland. Some of the movies in which she appeared were screened at the festival, and the un-aired television pilot for Meet Me in St. Louis was shown. She received an honorary award during the dinner banquet at the close of the event.

Personal life

Attending the Academy Awards in 1988

  • Holm’s first marriage was to Ralph Nelson in 1936.[3] Their son, Internet pioneer and sociologist Ted Nelson (né Theodor Holm Nelson; born 1937), was raised by his maternal grandparents. The marriage ended in 1939. In his 2010 memoir, Possiplex, her son, credited with coining the term “hypertext”, described this and other choices as “entirely the right decisions”. He reportedly did not name his mother in the book.[4]
  • Holm married Francis Emerson Harding Davies, an English auditor, on January 7, 1940. Davies was a Roman Catholic, and she was received into the Roman Catholic Church for the purposes of their 1940 wedding; the marriage was dissolved on May 8, 1945.[5]
  • From 1946 to 1952, Holm was married to airline public relations executive A. Schuyler Dunning, with whom she had a second son, businessman Daniel Dunning.[6]
  • From 1961 to 1996, she was married to fellow thespian Wesley Addy (1913–1996), until his death at age 83 in 1996.
  • On April 29, 2004, her 87th birthday, Holm married opera singer Frank Basile, age 41.[7] The couple met in October 1999 at a fundraiser at which Basile was hired to sing. Soon after their marriage, Holm and Basile sued to overturn the irrevocable trust that was created in 2002 by Daniel Dunning, Holm’s younger son. The trust was ostensibly set up to shelter Holm’s financial assets from taxes, although Basile contended the real purpose of the trust was to keep him away from her money. The lawsuit began a five-year battle with her sons, which cost millions of dollars, and according to an article in The New York Times, left Holm and her husband with a fragile hold on their home, which Holm purchased for $10,000 cash in 1953 from her film earnings, and which is now believed to be worth at least $2,000,000

According to her husband, Holm had been treated for memory loss since 2002, suffered skin cancer, bleeding ulcers and a collapsed lung, and had hip replacements and pacemakers.[4][8]

In June 2012, Holm was admitted to New York’s Roosevelt Hospital with dehydration. She suffered a heart attack on July 13 in the facility, dying at home on July 15[9] where she chose to spend her final days. She is survived by husband Frank Basile and her sons.[10][11][12]

 Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, IMDB.com, NMDB.com

Filmography

Stage appearances

  • Gloriana [Broadway] – Cast as Lady Mary. (1938)
  • Another Sun [Broadway] – Cast as Maria. (1940)
  • The Return of the Vagabond [Broadway] – Cast as His Daughter. (1940)
  • The Time of Your Life [Broadway] – Cast as Mary L. (1940)
  • Eight O’Clock Tuesday [Broadway] – Cast as Marcia Godden. (1941)
  • My Fair Ladies [Broadway] – Cast as Lady Keith-Odlyn. (1941)
  • Papa is All [Broadway] – Cast as Emma. (1942)
  • All the Comforts of Home [Broadway] – Cast as Fifi Oritanski. (1942)
  • The Damask Cheek [Broadway] – Cast as Calla Longstreth. (1942)
  • Oklahoma! [Broadway] – Original Production – Cast as Ado Annie Carnes. (1943)
  • Bloomer Girl [Broadway] – Original Production – Cast as Evelina. (1944)
  • Affairs of State [Broadway] – Cast as Irene Elliott. (1950)
  • The King and I [Broadway] – Original Production – Cast as Anna Leonowens [Replacement]. (1951)
  • Anna Christie [Broadway] – Cast as Anna Christopherson. (1952)
  • His and Hers [Broadway] – Cast as Maggie Palmer. (1954)
  • Interlock [Broadway] – Cast as Mrs. Price. (1958)
  • Third Best Sport [Broadway] – Cast as Helen Sayre. (1958)
  • Invitation to a March [Broadway] – Original Production – Cast as Camilla Jablonski. (1960)
  • Mame [Broadway] – Original Production – Cast as Mame Dennis [Replacement]. (1966)
  • Candida [Broadway] -Cast as Candida. (1970)
  • Babylove [Replacement].
  • The Grass Harp [Broadway] – Original Production. (1971)
  • Mama [Broadway] – Closed on the road. (1972)
  • Habeas Corpus [Broadway] – Cast as Lady Rumpers – A Pillar of the Empire. (1974)
  • The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall [Broadway] – Original Broadway Production – Cast as Julia Faysle Headmistress.(1979)
  • I Hate Hamlet [Broadway] – Cast as Lillian Troy. (1991)
  • Allegro [Off-Broadway] – Encores! Concert – Cast as Grandma Taylor. (1994)

TV appearances

Maria Callas

Maria CallasCommendatore OMRI[1] (Greek: Μαρία Κάλλας) (December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977) was an American-bornGreek soprano and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century. She combined an impressive bel canto technique, a wide-ranging voice and great dramatic gifts. An extremely versatile singer, her repertoire ranged from classical opera seria to the bel canto operas of DonizettiBellini and Rossini; further, to the works of Verdi and Puccini; and, in her early career, to the music dramas of Wagner. Her remarkable musical and dramatic talents led to her being hailed as La Divina. Born in New York City and raised by an overbearing mother, she received her musical education in Greece and established her career in Italy. Forced to deal with the exigencies of wartime poverty and with myopia that left her nearly blind onstage, she endured struggles and scandal over the course of her career. She turned herself from a heavy woman into a svelte and glamorous one after a mid-career weight loss, which might have contributed to her vocal decline and the premature end of her career. The press exulted in publicizing Callas’s allegedly temperamental behaviour, her supposed rivalry with Renata Tebaldi and her love affair with Aristotle Onassis. Her dramatic life and personal tragedy have often overshadowed Callas the artist in the popular press. However, her artistic achievements were such that Leonard Bernstein called her “The Bible of opera”;[2] and her influence was so enduring that, in 2006, Opera Newswrote of her: “Nearly thirty years after her death, she’s still the definition of the diva as artist—and still one of classical music’s best-selling vocalists.”[3] According to her birth certificate, Maria Callas was born Sophia Cecelia Kalos[4] at Flower Hospital (now the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center), at 1249 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, on December 2, 1923[5] to Greek parents George Kalogeropoulos and Evangelia “Litsa” (sometimes “Litza”) Dimitriadou, though she was christened Anna Maria Sofia Cecilia Kalogeropoulou – the genitive of the patronymic Kalogeropoulos – (GreekΜαρία Άννα Σοφία Καικιλία Καλογεροπούλου). Callas’s father had shortened the surname Kalogeropoulos first to “Kalos” and subsequently to “Callas” in order to make it more manageable.[4] George and Evangelia were an ill-matched couple from the beginning; he was easy-going and unambitious, with no interest in the arts, while his wife was vivacious and socially ambitious, and had held dreams of a life in the arts for herself.[4] The situation was aggravated by George’s philandering and was improved neither by the birth of a daughter, named Yakinthi (later called Jackie), in 1917 nor the birth of a son, named Vassilis, in 1920. Vassilis’s death from meningitis in the summer of 1922 dealt another blow to the marriage. In 1923, after realizing that Evangelia was pregnant again, George made the unilateral decision to move his family to America, a decision which Yakinthi recalled was greeted with Evangelia “shouting hysterically” followed by George “slamming doors”.[4] The family left for New York in July 1923, moving first into an apartment in Astoria, Queens. When Maria was 4, George Callas opened his own pharmacy, settling the family in Manhattan on 192nd Street in Washington Heights where Callas grew up. Evangelia was convinced that her third child would be a boy; her disappointment at the birth of another daughter was so great that she refused to even look at her new baby for four days.[4] Around the age of three, Maria’s musical talent began to manifest itself, and after Evangelia discovered that her youngest daughter also had a voice, she began pressing “Mary” to sing. Callas would later recall, “I was made to sing when I was only five, and I hated it.”[4] George was unhappy with his wife favouring their elder daughter, as well as the pressure put upon young Mary to sing and perform.[6] The marriage continued to deteriorate and in 1937 Evangelia decided to return to Athens with her two daughters.[4] Callas’s relationship with Evangelia continued to erode during the years in Greece, and in the prime of her career, it became a matter of great public interest, especially after a 1956 cover story in Time magazine which focused on this relationship and later, by Evangelia’s book My Daughter – Maria Callas. In public, Callas blamed the strained relationship with Evangelia on her unhappy childhood spent singing and working at her mother’s insistence, saying,

My sister was slim and beautiful and friendly, and my mother always preferred her. I was the ugly duckling, fat and clumsy and unpopular. It is a cruel thing to make a child feel ugly and unwanted… I’ll never forgive her for taking my childhood away. During all the years I should have been playing and growing up, I was singing or making money. Everything I did for them was mostly good and everything they did to me was mostly bad.[7]

In 1957, she told Norman Ross, “Children should have a wonderful childhood. I have not had it – I wish I had.”[8] On the other hand, biographer Pestalis-Diomidis asserts that it was actually Evangelia’s hateful treatment of George in front of their young children which led to resentment and dislike on Callas’s part.[4] However, according to both Callas’ husband and her close friend Giulietta Simionato, Callas related to them that her mother, who did not work, pressed her to “go out with various men”, mainly Italian and German soldiers, to bring home money and food during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II. Simionato was convinced that Callas “managed to remain untouched”, but Callas never forgave Evangelia for what she perceived as a kind of prostitution forced on her by her mother.[4] In an attempt to patch things up with her mother, Callas took Evangelia along on her first visit to Mexico in 1950, but this only reawakened the old frictions and resentments, and after leaving Mexico, the two never met again.[9] After a series of angry and accusatory letters from Evangelia lambasting Callas’s father and husband, Callas ceased communication with her mother altogether.[9] Callas received her musical education in Athens. Initially, her mother tried to enroll her at the prestigious Athens Conservatoire, without success. At the audition, her voice, still untrained, failed to impress, while the conservatoire’s director Filoktitis Oikonomidis refused to accept her without her satisfying the theoretic prerequisites (solfege). In the summer of 1937, her mother visited Maria Trivella at the younger Greek National Conservatoire, asking her to take Mary as a student for a modest fee. In 1957, Trivella recalled her impression of “Mary, a very plump young girl, wearing big glasses for her myopia”:

The tone of the voice was warm, lyrical, intense; it swirled and flared like a flame and filled the air with melodious reverberations like a carillon. It was by any standards an amazing phenomenon, or rather it was a great talent that needed control, technical training and strict discipline in order to shine with all its brilliance.[4] Trivella agreed to tutor Callas completely, waiving her tuition fees, but no sooner had Callas started her formal lessons and vocal exercises than Trivella began to feel that Mary was not a contralto, as she had been told, but a dramatic soprano. Subsequently, they began working on raising the tessitura of Mary’s voice and to lighten its timbre.[4] Trivella recalled Mary as “A model student. Fanatical, uncompromising, dedicated to her studies heart and soul. Her progress was phenomenal. She studied five or six hours a day. …Within six months, she was singing the most difficult arias in the international opera repertoire with the utmost musicality”.[4]On April 11, 1938, in her public debut, Callas ended the recital of Trivella’s class at the Parnassos music hall with a duet fromTosca.[4] Callas recalled that Trivella “had a French method, which was placing the voice in the nose, rather nasal… and I had the problem of not having low chest tones, which is essential in bel canto… And that’s where I learned my chest tones.”[10] However, when interviewed by Pierre Desgraupes on the French program L’Invitee Du Dimanche, Callas attributed the development of her chest voice not to Trivella, but to her next teacher, the well-known Spanish coloratura soprano Elvira de Hidalgo.[11] Callas studied with Trivella for two years before her mother secured another audition at the Athens Conservatoire with de Hidalgo. Callas auditioned with “Ocean, Thou Mighty Monster.” De Hidalgo recalled hearing “tempestuous, extravagant cascades of sounds, as yet uncontrolled but full of drama and emotion”.[4] She agreed to take her as a pupil immediately, but Callas’s mother asked de Hidalgo to wait for a year, as Callas would be graduating from the National Conservatoire and could begin working. On April 2, 1939, Callas undertook the part of Santuzza in a student production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana at the Olympia Theatre, and in the fall of the same year she enrolled at the Athens Conservatoire in Elvira de Hidalgo’s class.[4] In 1968, Callas told Lord Harewood,

De Hildalgo had the real great training, maybe even the last real training of the real bel canto. As a young girl—thirteen years old—I was immediately thrown into her arms, meaning that I learned the secrets, the ways of this bel canto, which of course as you well know, is not just beautiful singing. It is a very hard training; it is a sort of a straight-jacket that you’re supposed to put on, whether you like it or not. You have to learn to read, to write, to form your sentences, how far you can go, fall, hurt yourself, put yourself back on your feet continuously. De Hidalgo had one method, which was the real bel canto way, where no matter how heavy a voice, it should always be kept light, it should always be worked on in a flexible way, never to weigh it down. It is a method of keeping the voice light and flexible and pushing the instrument into a certain zone where it might not be too large in sound, but penetrating. And teaching the scales, trills, all the bel cantoembellishments, which is a whole vast language of its own.[10]

De Hidalgo would later recall Callas as “a phenomenon… She would listen to all my students, sopranos, mezzos, tenors… She could do it all.”[12] Callas herself said that she would go to “the conservatoire at 10 in the morning and leave with the last pupil … devouring music” for 10 hours a day. When asked by her teacher why she did this, her answer was that even “with the least talented pupil, he can teach you something that you, the most talented, might not be able to do.”[13] After several appearances as a student, Callas began appearing in secondary roles at the Greek National Opera. De Hidalgo was instrumental in securing roles for her, allowing Callas to earn a small salary, which would help her and her family get through the difficult war years.[4] Callas made her professional debut in February 1942, in the small role of Beatrice in Franz von Suppé‘s Boccaccio.[4] Soprano Galatea Amaxopoulou, who sang in the chorus, later recalled, “Even in rehearsal, Mary’s fantastic performing ability had been obvious, and from then on, the others started trying to find ways of preventing her from appearing.”[4] Fellow singer Maria Alkeou similarly recalled that the established sopranos Nafsika Galanou and Anna (Zozó) Remmoundou “used to stand in the wings while Mary was singing and make remarks about her, muttering, laughing, and point their fingers at her”.[4] Despite these hostilities, Callas managed to continue and made her debut in a leading role in August 1942 as Tosca, going on to sing the role of Marta in Eugen d’Albert‘s Tiefland at the Olympia Theatre. Callas’s performance as Marta received glowing reviews. Critic Spanoudi declared Callas “an extremely dynamic artist possessing the rarest dramatic and musical gifts”, and Vangelis Mangliveras evaluated Callas’s performance for the weekly To Radiophonon:

The singer who took the part of Marta, that new star in the Greek firmament, with a matchless depth of feeling, gave a theatrical interpretation well up to the standard of a tragic actress. About her exceptional voice with its astonishing natural fluency, I do not wish to add anything to the words of Alexandra Lalaouni: ‘Kaloyeropoulou is one of those God-given talents that one can only marvel at.’[4]

María Callas – Puccini “Vissi d’arte” (Tosca)

Following these performances, even Callas’s detractors began to refer to her as “The God-Given”.[4] Some time later, watching Callas rehearse Beethoven‘s Fidelio, rival soprano Remoundou asked a colleague, “Could it be that there is something divine and we haven’t realized it?”[4] Following Tiefland, Callas sang the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana again and followed it with O Protomastoras at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticustheatre at the foot of the Acropolis. During August and September 1944, Callas performed the role of Leonore in a Greek language production of Fidelio, again at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.[4] German critic Friedrich Herzog, who witnessed the performances, declared Leonore Callas’s “greatest triumph”:[4]

When Maria Kaloyeropoulou’s Leonore let her soprano soar out radiantly in the untrammelled jubilation of the duet, she rose to the most sublime heights…. Here she gave bud, blossom and fruit to that harmony of sound that also ennobled the art of the prima donne.[4]

After the liberation of Greece, de Hidalgo advised Callas to establish herself in Italy. Callas proceeded to give a series of concerts around Greece, and then, against her teacher’s advice, she returned to America to see her father and to further pursue her career. When she left Greece on September 14, 1945, two months short of her 22nd birthday, Callas had given 56 performances in seven operas and had appeared in around 20 recitals.[4] Callas considered her Greek career as the foundation of her musical and dramatic upbringing, saying, “When I got to the big career, there were no surprises for me.”[14]

 After returning to the United States and reuniting with her father in September 1945, Callas made the round of auditions.[4] In December of that year, she auditioned for Edward Johnson, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, and was favourably received: “Exceptional voice—ought to be heard very soon on stage”.[4] Callas maintained that the Met offered her Madama Butterfly and Fidelio, to be performed in Philadelphia and sung in English, both of which she declined, feeling she was too fat for Butterfly and did not like the idea of opera in English.[14] Although no written evidence of this offer exists in the Met’s records,[9] in a 1958 interview with The New York Post, Johnson corroborated Callas’s story: “We offered her a contract, but she didn’t like it—because of the contract, not because of the roles. She was right in turning it down—it was frankly a beginner’s contract.”[4]
Aida Triumphal March
In 1946, Callas was engaged to re-open the opera house in Chicago as Turandot, but the company folded before opening. BassoNicola Rossi-Lemeni, who also was to star in this opera, was aware that Tullio Serafin was looking for a dramatic soprano to cast asLa Gioconda at the Arena di Verona. He would later recall the young Callas as being “amazing—so strong physically and spiritually; so certain of her future. I knew in a big outdoor theatre like Verona’s, this girl, with her courage and huge voice, would make a tremendous impact.”[15] Subsequently he recommended Callas to retired tenor and impresario Giovanni Zenatello. During her audition, Zenatello became so excited that he jumped up and joined Callas in the Act 4 duet.[6] It was in this role that Callas made her Italian debut. Upon her arrival in Verona, Callas met Giovanni Battista Meneghini, an older, wealthy industrialist, who began courting her. They married in 1949, and he assumed control of her career until 1959, when the marriage dissolved. It was Meneghini’s love and support that gave Callas the time needed to establish herself in Italy,[15] and throughout the prime of her career, she went by the name Maria Meneghini Callas. After La Gioconda, Callas had no further offers, and when Serafin, looking for someone to sing Isolde, called on her, she told him that she already knew the score, even though she had looked at only the first act out of curiosity while at the conservatory.[14] She sight-read the opera’s second act for Serafin, who praised her for knowing the role so well, whereupon she admitted to having bluffed and having sight-read the music.[14] Even more impressed, Serafin immediately cast her in the role.[14] Serafin thereafter served as Callas’s mentor and supporter. According to Lord Harewood, “Very few Italian conductors have had a more distinguished career than Tullio Serafin, and perhaps none, apart from Toscanini, more influence”.[13]In 1968, Callas would recall that working with Serafin was the “really lucky” opportunity of her career, because “he taught me that there must be an expression; that there must be a justification. He taught me the depth of music, the justification of music. That’s where I really really drank all I could from this man”.[10] The great turning point in Callas’s career occurred in Venice in 1949.[16] She was engaged to sing the role of Brünnhilde in Die Walküre at the Teatro la Fenice, when Margherita Carosio, who was engaged to sing Elvira in I puritani in the same theatre, fell ill. Unable to find a replacement for Carosio, Maestro Serafin told Callas that she would be singing Elvira in six days; when Callas protested that she not only did not know the role, but also had three more Brünnhildes to sing, he told her “I guarantee that you can.”[13] InMichael Scott‘s words, “the notion of any one singer embracing music as divergent in its vocal demands as Wagner’s Brünnhilde and Bellini’s Elvira in the same career would have been cause enough for surprise; but to attempt to essay them both in the same season seemed like folie de grandeur“.[9] Before the performance actually took place, one incredulous critic snorted, “We hear that Serafin has agreed to conduct I puritani with a dramatic soprano… When can we expect a new edition of La traviata with [baritone] Gino Bechi‘s Violetta?”[9] After the performance, critics would write, “Even the most sceptical had to acknowledge the miracle that Maria Callas accomplished… the flexibility of her limpid, beautifully poised voice, and her splendid high notes. Her interpretation also has a humanity, warmth and expressiveness that one would search for in vain in the fragile, pellucid coldness of other Elviras.”[17] Franco Zeffirelli recalled, “What she did in Venice was really incredible. You need to be familiar with opera to realize the enormity of her achievement. It was as if someone asked Birgit Nilsson, who is famous for her great Wagnerian voice, to substitute overnight for Beverly Sills, who is one of the great coloraturasopranos of our time.”[12] Scott asserts that “Of all the many roles Callas undertook, it is doubtful if any had a more far-reaching effect.”[9] This initial foray into the bel canto repertoire changed the course of Callas’s career and set her on a path leading to Lucia di LammermoorLa traviataArmidaLa sonnambulaIl pirataIl turco in ItaliaMedea and Anna Bolena, and reawakened interest in the long-neglected operas of CherubiniBelliniDonizetti and Rossini.[12][15] In the words of soprano Montserrat Caballé,

She opened a new door for us, for all the singers in the world, a door that had been closed. Behind it was sleeping not only great music but great idea of interpretation. She has given us the chance, those who follow her, to do things that were hardly possible before her. That I am compared with Callas is something I never dared to dream. It is not right. I am much smaller than Callas.[15]

Maria Callas Interview

As with I puritani, Callas also learned and performed Cherubini’s MedeaGiordano‘s Andrea Chénier and Rossini’s Armida on a few days’ notice.[15][18] Throughout her career, Callas displayed her vocal versatility in recitals that pitched dramatic soprano arias alongside coloratura pieces, including in a 1952 RAI recital in which she opened with Lady Macbeth’s “letter scene“, followed by the “Mad Scene” from Lucia di Lammermoor, then Abigaile’s treacherous recitative and aria from Nabucco, finishing with the “Bell Song” from Lakmé capped by a ringing high E in alt (E6).[18] Although by 1951 Callas had sung at all the major theatres in Italy, she had not yet made her official debut at Italy’s most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan. According to composer Gian-Carlo Menotti, Callas had substituted for Renata Tebaldi in the role of Aida in 1950, and La Scala’s general manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, had taken an immediate dislike to Callas.[12] Menotti recalls that Ghiringhelli had promised him any singer he wanted for the premiere of The Consul, but when he suggested Callas, Ghiringhelli said that he would never have Callas at La Scala except as a guest artist. However, as Callas’s fame grew, and especially after her great success in I vespri siciliani in Florence, Ghiringhelli had to relent: Callas made her official debut at La Scala in Verdi‘s I vespri siciliani on opening night in December 1951, and this theatre became her artistic home throughout the 1950s.[12] La Scala mounted many new productions specially for Callas by directors such as Herbert von KarajanMargherita WallmannFranco Zeffirelli and, most importantly, Luchino Visconti.[15] Visconti stated later that he began directing opera only because of Callas,[19] and he directed her in lavish new productions of La vestaleLa traviataLa sonnambulaAnna Bolena and Iphigénie en Tauride. Callas was notably instrumental in arranging Franco Corelli‘s debut at La Scala in 1954, where he sang Licinio in Spontini‘s La vestale opposite Callas’s Julia. The two had sung together for the first time the year previously in Rome in a production of NormaAnthony Tommasini wrote that Corelli had “earned great respect from the fearsomely demanding Callas, who, in Mr Corelli, finally had someone with whom she could act.”[20] The two collaborated several more times at La Scala, singing opposite each other in productions of Fedora (1956), Il pirata (1958) and Poliuto (1960). Their partnership continued throughout the rest of Callas’s career.[21] The night of the day she married Meneghini in Verona, she sailed for Argentina to sing at theColon Theatre in Buenos Aires. Callas made her South American debut in Buenos Aires on May 20, 1949 during European summer’s recess. AidaTurandot and Norma roles were directed byTullio Serafin, supported by Mario del MonacoFedora Barbieri and Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. It was her only appearance on this world renowned stage. Her debut in America was five years later in Chicago in 1954, and “with the Callas NormaLyric Opera of Chicago was born.”[22] HerMetropolitan Opera debut, opening the Met’s seventy-second season on October 29, 1956, was again with Norma,[23] but was preceded with an unflattering cover story in Time magazine, which rehashed all of the Callas clichés, including her temper, her supposed rivalry withRenata Tebaldi and especially her difficult relationship with her mother.[6][16] As she had done with Lyric Opera of Chicago, on November 21, 1957, Callas gave a concert to inaugurate what then was billed as the Dallas Civic Opera, and helped establish that company with her friends from Chicago, Lawrence Kelly and Maestro Nicola Rescigno.[24] She further consolidated this company’s standing when, in 1958, she gave “a towering performance as Violetta in La Traviata, and that same year, in her only American performances of Medea, gave an interpretation of the title role worthy of Euripides.”[25] In 1958, a feud with Rudolf Bing led to Callas’s Metropolitan Opera contract being cancelled. Impresario Allen Oxenburg realised that this situation provided him with an opportunity for his own company, the American Opera Society, and he accordingly approached her with a contract to perform Imogene in Il pirata. She accepted and sang the role in a January 1959 performance that according to opera critic Allan Kozinn “quickly became legendary in operatic circles”.[26] Bing and Callas later reconciled their differences, and she returned to the house in 1965 to sing the title role in two performances as Tosca opposite Franco Corelli as Cavaradossi for one performance (March 19, 1965) and Richard Tucker (March 25, 1965) with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia for her final performances at the Met. In 1952, she made her London debut at the Royal Opera House in Norma with veteran mezzo soprano Ebe Stignani as Adalgisa, a performance which survives on record and also features the young Joan Sutherland in the small role of Clotilde.[18] Callas and the London public had what she herself called “a love affair”,[6] and she returned to the Royal Opera House in 1953, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1964 to 1965.[15] It was at the Royal Opera House where, on July 5, 1965, Callas ended her stage career in the role of Tosca, in a production designed and mounted for her by Franco Zeffirelli and featuring her friend and colleague Tito Gobbi.[15] In the early years of her career, Callas was a heavy and full-figured woman; in her own words, “Heavy—one can say—yes I was; but I’m also a tall woman, 5′ 8½” [174 centimeters], and I used to weigh no more than 200 pounds [91 kilograms].”[14] Tito Gobbi relates that during a lunch break while recording Lucia in Florence, Serafin commented to Callas that she was eating too much and allowing her weight to become a problem. When she protested that she wasn’t so heavy, Gobbi suggested she should “put the matter to test” by stepping on the weighing machine outside the restaurant. The result was “somewhat dismaying, and she became rather silent.”[27] In 1968, Callas told Edward Downes that during her initial performances in Cherubini‘s Medea in May 1953, she realized that she needed a leaner face and figure to do dramatic justice to this as well as the other roles she was undertaking. She adds,

I was getting so heavy that even my vocalizing was getting heavy. I was tiring myself, I was perspiring too much, and I was really working too hard. And I wasn’t really well, as in health; I couldn’t move freely. And then I was tired of playing a game, for instance playing this beautiful young woman, and I was heavy and uncomfortable to move around. In any case, it was uncomfortable and I didn’t like it. So I felt now if I’m going to do things right—I’ve studied all my life to put things right musically, so why don’t I diet and put myself into a certain condition where I’m presentable.[14]

Una Voce Poco Fa

During 1953 and early 1954, she lost almost 80 pounds (36 kg), turning herself into what Maestro Rescigno called “possibly the most beautiful lady on the stage”.[12] Sir Rudolf Bing, who remembered Callas as being “monstrously fat” in 1951, stated that after the weight loss, Callas was an “astonishing, svelte, striking woman” who “showed none of the signs one usually finds in a fat woman who has lost weight: she looked as though she had been born to that slender and graceful figure, and had always moved with that elegance.”[28] Various rumours spread regarding her weight loss method; one had her swallowing a tapeworm, while Rome’s Pantanella Mills pasta company claimed she lost weight by eating their “physiologic pasta”, prompting Callas to file a lawsuit.[9] Callas stated that she lost the weight by eating a sensible low-calorie diet of mainly salads and chicken.[14] Some believe that the loss of body mass made it more difficult for her to support her voice, triggering the vocal strain that became apparent later in the decade (see vocal decline), while others believed the weight loss effected a newfound softness and femininity in her voice, as well as a greater confidence as a person and performer.[15] Tito Gobbisaid, “Now she was not only supremely gifted both musically and dramatically—she was a beauty too. And her awareness of this invested with fresh magic every role she undertook. What it eventually did to her vocal and nervous stamina I am not prepared to say. I only assert that she blossomed into an artist unique in her generation and outstanding in the whole range of vocal history.”[27] Callas’s voice was and remains controversial; it bothered and disturbed as many as it thrilled and inspired.[15][18] Walter Legge stated that Callas possessed that most essential ingredient for a great singer: an instantly recognizable voice.[29] During “The Callas Debate”, Italian critic Rodolfo Celletti stated, “The timbre of Callas’s voice, considered purely as sound, was essentially ugly: it was a thin sound, which gave the impression of dryness, of aridity. It lacked those elements which, in a singer’s jargon, are described as velvet and varnish… yet I really believe that part of her appeal was precisely due to this fact. Why? Because for all its natural lack of varnish, velvet and richness, this voice could acquire such distinctive colours and timbres as to be unforgettable.”[30] However, in his review of Callas’s 1951 live recording of I vespri siciliani, Ira Siff writes, “Accepted wisdom tells us that Callas possessed, even early on, a flawed voice, unattractive by conventional standards — an instrument that signaled from the beginning vocal problems to come. Yet listen to her entrance in this performance and one encounters a rich, spinning sound, ravishing by any standard, capable of delicate dynamic nuance. High notes are free of wobble, chest tones unforced, and the middle register displays none of the “bottled” quality that became more and more pronounced as Callas matured.”[31] Nicola Rossi-Lemeni relates that Callas’s mentor Tullio Serafin used to refer to her as “Una grande vociaccia”; he continues, “Vociaccia is a little bit pejorative—it means an ugly voice—but grande means a big voice, a great voice. A great ugly voice, in a way.”[32] Callas herself did not like the sound of her own voice; in one of her last interviews, answering whether or not she was able to listen to her own voice, she replies,

Yes, but I don’t like it. I have to do it, but I don’t like it at all because I don’t like the kind of voice I have. I really hate listening to myself! The first time I listened to a recording of my singing was when we were recording San Giovanni Battista by Stradella in a church in Perugia in 1949. They made me listen to the tape and I cried my eyes out. I wanted to stop everything, to give up singing… Also now even though I don’t like my voice, I’ve become able to accept it and to be detached and objective about it so I can say, “Oh, that was really well sung,” or “It was nearly perfect.”[33]

Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini has described the appeal of Callas’s voice:

It is very difficult to speak of the voice of Callas. Her voice was a very special instrument. Something happens sometimes with string instruments—violin, viola, cello—where the first moment you listen to the sound of this instrument, the first feeling is a bit strange sometimes. But after just a few minutes, when you get used to, when you become friends with this kind of sound, then the sound becomes a magical quality. This was Callas.[12]

 Callas’s voice has been difficult to place in the modern vocal classification or fach system, especially since in her prime, her repertoire contained the heaviest dramatic sopranoroles as well as roles usually undertaken by the highest, lightest and most agile coloratura sopranos. Regarding this versatility, Maestro Tullio Serafin said, “This woman can sing anything written for the female voice”.[6] Michael Scott argues that Callas’s voice was a natural high soprano,[9] and going by evidence of Callas’s early recordings, Rosa Ponselle likewise felt that “At that stage of its development, her voice was a pure but sizable dramatic coloratura––that is to say, a sizable coloratura voice with dramatic capabilities, not the other way around.”[34] On the other hand, music critic John Ardoin has argued that Callas was the reincarnation of the nineteenth century soprano sfogato or “unlimited soprano”, a throwback to Maria Malibran and Giuditta Pasta, for whom many of the famous bel canto operas were written. He avers that like Pasta and Malibran, Callas was a natural mezzo-soprano whose range was extended through training and willpower, resulting in a voice which “lacked the homogeneous color and evenness of scale once so prized in singing. There were unruly sections of their voices never fully under control. Many who heard Pasta, for example, remarked that her uppermost notes seemed produced by ventriloquism, a charge which would later be made against Callas”.[15] Ardoin points to the writings of Henry Fothergill Chorley about Pasta which bear an uncanny resemblance to descriptions of Callas:

“There was a portion of the scale which differed from the rest in quality and remained to the last ‘under a veil.’ …out of these uncouth materials she had to compose her instrument and then to give it flexibility. Her studies to acquire execution must have been tremendous; but the volubility and brilliancy, when acquired, gained a character of their own… There were a breadth, an expressiveness in her roulades, an evenness and solidity in her shake, which imparted to every passage a significance totally beyond the reach of lighter and more spontaneous singers… The best of her audience were held in thrall, without being able to analyze what made up the spell, what produced the effect–as soon as she opened her lips”.[15]

Callas herself appears to have been in agreement not only with Ardoin’s assertions that she started as a natural mezzo-soprano, but also saw the similarities between herself andPasta and Malibran. In 1957, she described her early voice as: “The timbre was dark, almost black—when I think of it, I think of thick molasses”, and in 1968 she added, “They say I was not a true soprano, I was rather toward a mezzo”.[4] Regarding her ability to sing the heaviest as well as the lightest roles, she told James Fleetwood,

“It’s study; it’s Nature. I’m doing nothing special, you know. Even LuciaAnna BolenaPuritani, all these operas were created for one type of soprano, the type that sang NormaFidelio, which was Malibran of course. And a funny coincidence last year, I was singing Anna Bolena and Sonnambula, same months and the same distance of time as Giuditta Pasta had sung in the Nineteenth Century… So I’m really not doing anything extraordinary. You wouldn’t ask a pianist not to be able to play everything; he has to. This is Nature and also because I had a wonderful teacher, the old kind of teaching methods… I was a very heavy voice, that is my nature, a dark voice shall we call it, and I was always kept on the light side. She always trained me to keep my voice limber”.[35]

Vocal size and range

Callas’s range in performance (highest and lowest notes both shown in red): from F-sharp below the Middle C (green) to E-natural above the High C (blue).

Regarding the sheer size of Callas’s instrument, Celletti says, “Her voice was penetrating. The volume as such was average: neither small nor powerful. But the penetration, allied to this incisive quality (which bordered on the ugly because it frequently contained an element of harshness) ensured that her voice could be clearly heard anywhere in the auditorium.”[30] Yet, paradoxically enough, in “Le Grandi voci”, Celletti states that Callas had not a mere penetrating voice but “a voluminous, resonant and dark” one (“una voce voluminosa, squillante e di timbro scuro”). After her first performance of Medea in 1953, the critic for Musical Courier would write, “she displayed a vocal generosity that was scarecely believable for its amplitude and resilience.”.[17] In a 1982 Opera News interview with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, Bonynge stated, “But before she slimmed down, I mean this was such a colossal voice. It just poured out of her, the way Flagstad‘s did… Callas had a huge voice. When she and Stignani sang Norma, at the bottom of the range you could barely tell who was who… Oh it was colossal. And she took the big sound right up to the top.”[36] In his book, Michael Scott makes the distinction that whereas Callas’s pre-1954 voice was a “dramatic soprano with an exceptional top”, after the weight loss, it became, as one Chicago critic described the voice in Lucia,[17] a “huge soprano leggiero“.[9] In performance, Callas’s range was just short of three octaves, from F-sharp (F♯3) below middle C (C4) heard in “Arrigo! Ah parli a un core” from I vespri siciliani to E-natural (E6) above high C (C6), heard in the aria “Mercè, dilette amiche” in the final act of the same opera, as well as in Rossini‘s Armida and Lakmés Bell Song. Whether or not Callas ever sang a high F-natural in performance has been open to debate. After her June 11, 1951 concert in Florence, Rock Ferris of Musical Courier said, “Her high E’s and F’s are taken full voice.”[17] Although no definite recording of Callas singing high F’s have surfaced, the presumed E-natural at the end of Rossini’s Armida—a poor-quality bootleg recording of uncertain pitch—has been referred to as a high F by Italian musicologists and critics Eugenio Gara and Rodolfo Celletti.[30] Callas expert Dr. Robert Seletsky, however, stated that since the finale of Armida is in the key of E, the final note could not have been an F, as it would have been dissonant. Author Eve Ruggieri has referred to the penultimate note in “Mercè, dilette amiche” from the 1951 Florence performances of I vespri siciliani as a high F;[37] however, this claim is refuted by John Ardoin‘s review of the live recording of the performance as well as by the review of the recording in Opera News, both of which refer to the note as a high E-natural.[18][31] In a 1969 French television interview with Pierre Desgraupes on the program L’invitée du dimanche, maestro Francesco Siciliani speaks of Callas’s voice going to high F (he also talk about her lower register extending to C3), but within the same program, Callas’s teacher, Elvira de Hidalgo, speaks of the voice soaring to a high E-natural, but does not mention a high F; meanwhile, Callas herself remains silent on the subject, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with either claim.[11]

Ave Maria

Vocal registers

Callas’s voice was noted for its three distinct registers: Her low or chest register was extremely dark and almost baritonal in power, and she used this part of her voice for dramatic effect, often going into this register much higher on the scale than most sopranos.[29][30] Her middle register had a peculiar and highly personal sound—”part oboe, part clarinet”, as Claudia Cassidy described it[15]—and was noted for its veiled or “bottled” sound, as if she were singing into a jug.[29] Walter Legge attributed this sound to the “extraordinary formation of her upper palate, shaped like a Gothic arch, not the Romanesque arch of the normal mouth”.[29] The upper register was ample and bright, with an impressive extension above high C, which—in contrast to the light flute-like sound of the typical coloratura, “she would attack these notes with more vehemence and power—quite differently therefore, from the very delicate, cautious, ‘white’ approach of the light sopranos.”[30] Legge adds, “Even in the most difficult fioriture there were no musical or technical difficulties in this part of the voice which she could not execute with astonishing, unostentatious ease. Her chromatic runs, particularly downwards, were beautifully smooth and staccatos almost unfailingly accurate, even in the trickiest intervals. There is hardly a bar in the whole range of nineteenth century music for high soprano that seriously tested her powers.”[29] And as she demonstrated in the finale of La sonnambula on the commercial EMI set and the live recording from Cologne, she was able to execute a diminuendo on the stratospheric high E-flat, which Scott describes as “a feat unrivaled in the history of the gramophone.”[9] Regarding Callas’s soft singing, Celletti says, “In these soft passages, Callas seemed to use another voice altogether, because it acquired a great sweetness. Whether in her florid singing or in her canto spianato, that is, in long held notes without ornamentation, her mezza-voce could achieve such moving sweetness that the sound seemed to come from on high. . . I don’t know, it seemed to come from the skylight of La Scala.”[30] This combination of size, weight, range and agility was a source of amazement to Callas’s own contemporaries. One of the choristers present at her La Scala debut in I vespri siciliani recalled, “My God! She came on stage sounding like our deepest contralto, Cloe Elmo. And before the evening was over, she took a high E-flat. And it was twice as strong as Toti Dal Monte‘s!”[15] In the same vein, mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato said: “The first time we sang together was in Mexico in 1950, where she sang the top E-flat in the second-act finale of Aida. I can still remember the effect of that note in the opera house—it was like a star!”[38] For Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi, “the most fantastic thing was the possibility for her to sing the soprano coloratura with this big voice! This was something really special. Fantastic absolutely!”[12] Callas’s vocal registers, however, were not seamlessly joined; Walter Legge writes, “Unfortunately, it was only in quick music, particularly descending scales, that she completely mastered the art of joining the three almost incompatible voices into one unified whole, but until about 1960, she disguised those audible gear changes with cunning skill.”[29] Rodolfo Celletti states,

In certain areas of her range her voice also possessed a guttural quality. This would occur in the most delicate and troublesome areas of a soprano’s voice—for instance where the lower and middle registers merge, between G and A. I would go so far as to say that here her voice had such resonances as to make one think at times of a ventriloquist. . .or else the voice could sound as though it were resonating in a rubber tube. There was another troublesome spot. . . between the middle and upper registers. Here, too, around the treble F and G, there was often something in the sound itself which was not quite right, as though the voice were not functioning properly.[30]

La Wally

As to whether these troublesome spots were due to the nature of the voice itself or to technical deficiencies, Celletti says: “Even if, when passing from one register to another, Callas produced an unpleasant sound, the technique she used for these transitions was perfect.”[30] Musicologist and critic Fedele D’Amico adds, “Callas’s ‘faults’ were in the voice and not in the singer; they are so to speak, faults of departure but not of arrival. This is precisely Celletti’s distinction between the natural quality of the voice and the technique.”[30] In 2005, Ewa Podles said of Callas, “Maybe she had three voices, maybe she had three ranges, I don’t know — I am professional singer. Nothing disturbed me, nothing! I bought everything that she offered me. Why? Because all of her voices, her registers, she used how they should be used — just to tell us something!”[39] Eugenio Gara states, “Much has been said about her voice, and no doubt the discussion will continue. Certainly no one could in honesty deny the harsh or “squashed” sounds, nor the wobble on the very high notes. These and others were precisely the accusations made at the time against Pasta and Malibran, two geniuses of song (as they were then called), sublime, yet imperfect. Both were brought to trial in their day. . . Yet few singers have made history in the annals of opera as these two did.”[30] Though adored by many opera enthusiasts, Callas was a controversial artist. While Callas was the great singer often dismissed simply as an actress[40] she considered herself first and foremost “a musician, that is, the first instrument of the orchestra.”[10] Grace Bumbry states, “If I followed the musical score when she was singing, I would see every tempo marking, every dynamic marking, everything being adhered to, and at the same time, it was not antiseptic; it was something that was very beautiful and moving.” [41]Maestro Victor de Sabata confided to Walter Legge, “If the public could understand, as we do, how deeply and utterly musical Callas is, they would be stunned”,[29] and MaestroTullio Serafin assessed Callas’s musicality as “extraordinary, almost frightening.”[42] Callas possessed an innate architectural sense of line-proportion[15] and an uncanny feel for timing and for what one of her colleagues described as “a sense of the rhythm within the rhythm”.[4] Regarding Callas’s technical prowess, Celletti says, “We must not forget that she could tackle the whole gamut of ornamentation: staccatotrills, half-trills, gruppettiscales, etc.”[30] D’Amico adds, “The essential virtue of Callas’s technique consists of supreme mastery of an extraordinarily rich range of tone colour (that is, the fusion of dynamic range and timbre). And such mastery means total freedom of choice in its use: not being a slave to one’s abilities, but rather, being able to use them at will as a means to an end.”[30] While reviewing the many recorded versions of “perhaps Verdi’s ultimate challenge”, the aria “D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Il Trovatore, Richard Dyer writes,

“Callas articulates all of the trills, and she binds them into the line more expressively than anyone else; they are not an ornament but a form of intensification. Part of the wonder in this performance is the chiaroscuro through her tone — the other side of not singing full-out all the way through. One of the vocal devices that create that chiaroscuro is a varying rate of vibrato; another is her portamento, the way she connects the voice from note to note, phrase to phrase, lifting and gliding. This is never a sloppy swoop, because its intention is as musically precise as it is in great string playing. In this aria, Callas uses more portamento, and in greater variety, than any other singer. . . Callas is not creating “effects”, as even her greatest rivals do. She sees the aria as a whole, “as if in an aerial view”, asSviatoslav Richter‘s teacher observed of his most famous pupil; simultaneously, she is on earth, standing in the courtyard of the palace of Aliaferia, floating her voice to the tower where her lover lies imprisoned.”[43]

Travatore 1950

In addition to her musical skills, Callas had a particular gift for language and the use of language in music.[29] In recitatives, she always knew which word to emphasize and which syllable in that word to bring out.[15] Michael Scott notes, “If we listen attentively, we note how her perfect legato enables her to suggest by musical means even the exclamation marks and commas of the text.”[9] Technically, not only did she have the capacity to perform the most difficult florid music effortlessly, but also she had the ability to use each ornament as an expressive device rather than for mere fireworks.[39] Soprano Martina Arroyo states, “What interested me most was how she gave the runs and the cadenzas words. That always floored me. I always felt I heard her saying something – it was never just singing notes. That alone is an art.”[39] Walter Legge states that,

Most admirable of all her qualities, however, were her taste, elegance and deeply musical use of ornamentation in all its forms and complications, the weighting and length of every appoggiatura, the smooth incorporation of the turn in melodic lines, the accuracy and pacing of her trills, the seemingly inevitable timing of herportamentos, varying their curve with enchanting grace and meaning. There were innumerable exquisite felicities – minuscule portamentos from one note to its nearest neighbor, or over widespread intervals – and changes of color that were pure magic. In these aspects of bel canto she was supreme mistress of that art.[29] Regarding Callas’s acting ability, vocal coach and music critic Ira Siff remarked, “When I saw the final two Toscas she did in the old [Met], I felt like I was watching the actual story on which the opera had later been based.”[44] Callas was not, however, a realistic or verismo style actress:[9] her physical acting was merely “subsidiary to the heavyKunst of developing the psychology of the roles under the supervision of the music, of singing the acting… Suffering, delight, humility, hubris, despair, rhapsody—all this was musically appointed, through her use of the voice flying the text upon the notes.”[40] Seconding this opinion, verismo specialist soprano Augusta Oltrabella said, “Despite what everyone says, [Callas] was an actress in the expression of the music, and not vice versa.”[45][46] Mathew Gurewitsch adds,

In fact the essence of her art was refinement. The term seems odd for a performer whose imagination and means of expression were so prodigious. She was eminently capable of the grand gesture; still, judging strictly from the evidence of her recordings, we know (and her few existing film clips confirm) that her power flowed not from excess but from unbroken concentration, unfaltering truth in the moment. It flowed also from irreproachable musicianship. People say that Callas would not hesitate to distort a vocal line for dramatic effect. In the throes of operatic passion plenty of singers snarl, growl, whine, and shriek. Callas was not one of them. She found all she needed in the notes.[47]

Ewa Podles likewise stated that “It’s enough to hear her, I’m positive! Because she could say everything only with her voice! I can imagine everything, I can see everything in front of my eye.”[39] Opera director Sandro Sequi, who witnessed many Callas performances close-up, states, “For me, she was extremely stylized and classic, yet at the same time, human—but humanity on a higher plane of existence, almost sublime. Realism was foreign to her, and that is why she was the greatest of opera singers. After all, opera is the least realistic of theater forms… She was wasted in verismo roles, even Tosca, no matter how brilliantly she could act such roles.”[15] Scott adds, “Early nineteenth-century opera… is not merely the antithesis of reality, it also requires highly stylized acting. Callas had the perfect face for it. Her big features matched its grandiloquence and spoke volumes from a distance.”[9] In regard to Callas’s physical acting style, Nicola Rescigno states, “Maria had a way of even transforming her body for the exigencies of a role, which is a great triumph. In La traviata, everything would slope down; everything indicated sickness, fatigue, softness. Her arms would move as if they had no bones, like the great ballerinas. In Medea, everything was angular. She’d never make a soft gesture; even the walk she used was like a tiger’s walk.”[48] Sandro Sequi recalls, “She was never in a hurry. Everything was very paced, proportioned, classical, precise… She was extremely powerful but extremely stylized. Her gestures were not many… I don’t think she did more than 20 gestures in a performance. But she was capable of standing 10 minutes without moving a hand or finger, compelling everyone to look at her.”[15] Edward Downes recalled Callas watching and observing her colleagues with such intensity and concentration as to make it seem that the drama was all unfolding in her head.[14] Sir Rudolf Bing similarly recalled that in Il trovatorein Chicago, “it was Callas’ quiet listening, rather than Björling‘s singing that made the dramatic impact… He didn’t know what he was singing, but she knew.”[28] Callas herself stated that, in Opera, Acting must be based on the Music, quoting Maestro Tullio Serafin‘s advice to her:

“When one wants to find a gesture, when you want to find how to act onstage, all you have to do is listen to the music. The composer has already seen to that. If you take the trouble to really listen with your Soul and with your Ears – and I say ‘Soul’ and ‘Ears’ because the Mind must work, but not too much also – you will find every gesture there.”[13]

Callas’s most distinguishing quality was her ability to breathe life into the characters she portrayed,[15] or in the words of Matthew Gurewitsch, “Most mysterious among her many gifts, Callas had the genius to translate the minute particulars of a life into tone of voice.”[47] Italian critic Eugenio Gara adds:

Her secret is in her ability to transfer to the musical plane the suffering of the character she plays, the nostalgic longing for lost happiness, the anxious fluctuation between hope and despair, between pride and supplication, between irony and generosity, which in the end dissolve into a superhuman inner pain. The most diverse and opposite of sentiments, cruel deceptions, ambitious desires, burning tenderness, grievous sacrifices, all the torments of the heart, acquire in her singing that mysterious truth, I would like to say, that psychological sonority, which is the primary attraction of opera.[30]

Ethan Mordden writes, “It was a flawed voice. But then Callas sought to capture in her singing not just beauty but a whole humanity, and within her system, the flaws feed the feeling, the sour plangency and the strident defiance becoming aspects of the canto. They were literally defects of her voice; she bent them into advantages of her singing.”[40]Maestro Giulini believes, “If melodrama is the ideal unity of the trilogy of words, music, and action, it is impossible to imagine an artist in whom these three elements were more together than Callas.”[9] He recalls that during Callas’s performances of La traviata, “reality was onstage. What stood behind me, the audience, auditorium, La Scala itself, seemed artifice. Only that which transpired on stage was truth, life itself.”[15] Sir Rudolf Bing expressed similar sentiments:

Once one heard and saw Maria Callas—one can’t really distinguish it—in a part, it was very hard to enjoy any other artist, no matter how great, afterwards, because she imbued every part she sang and acted with such incredible personality and life. One move of her hand was more than another artist could do in a whole act.[12]

To Maestro Antonino Votto, Callas was

The last great artist. When you think this woman was nearly blind, and often sang standing a good 150 feet from the podium. But her sensitivity! Even if she could not see, she sensed the music and always came in exactly with my downbeat. When we rehearsed, she was so precise, already note-perfect… She was not just a singer, but a complete artist. It’s foolish to discuss her as a voice. She must be viewed totally—as a complex of music, drama, movement. There is no one like her today. She was an esthetic phenomenon.[15]

During the early 1950s, controversy arose regarding a supposed rivalry between Callas and Renata Tebaldi, an Italian lyrico spinto soprano renowned for the ravishing beauty of her voice.[15] The contrast between Callas’s often unconventional vocal qualities and Tebaldi’s classically beautiful sound resurrected an argument as old as opera itself, namely, beauty of sound versus the expressive use of sound.[15][30]

Carmen

This “rivalry” reached a fever pitch in the mid-1950s, at times even engulfing the two women themselves, who were said by their more fanatical followers to have engaged in verbal barbs in each other’s direction. Tebaldi was quoted as saying, “I have one thing that Callas doesn’t have: a heart”[6] while Callas was quoted in Time magazine as saying that comparing her with Tebaldi was like “comparing Champagne with Cognac. No, with Coca Cola.”[49] However, witnesses to the interview stated that Callas only said “champagne with cognac”, and it was a bystander who quipped, “No, with Coca-Cola”, but the Time reporter attributed the latter comment to Callas.[6]

According to John Ardoin, however, these two singers should never have been compared.[15] Tebaldi was trained by Carmen Melis, a noted verismo specialist, and she was rooted in the early 20th century Italian school of singing just as firmly as Callas was rooted in 19th century bel canto.[15] Callas was a dramatic soprano, whereas Tebaldi considered herself essentially a lyric soprano. Callas and Tebaldi generally sang a different repertoire: in the early years of her career, Callas concentrated on the heavy dramatic soprano roles and later in her career on the bel canto repertoire, whereas Tebaldi concentrated on late Verdi and verismo roles, where her limited upper extension[30] and her lack of a florid technique were not issues.[15] They shared a few roles, including Tosca in Puccini’s opera and La Gioconda, which Tebaldi performed only late in her career.

The alleged rivalry aside, Callas made remarks appreciative of Tebaldi, and vice versa. During an interview with Norman Ross in Chicago, Callas said, “I admire Tebaldi’s tone; it’s beautiful—also some beautiful phrasing. Sometimes, I actually wish I had her voice.” Francis Robinson of the Met wrote of an incident in which Tebaldi asked him to recommend a recording of La Gioconda in order to help her learn the role. Being fully aware of the alleged rivalry, he recommended Zinka Milanov‘s version. A few days later, he went to visit Tebaldi, only to find her sitting by the speakers, listening intently to Callas’s recording. She then looked up at him and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me Maria’s was the best?”[50]

Callas visited Tebaldi after a performance of Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met in the late 1960s, and the two were reunited. In 1978, Tebaldi spoke warmly of her late colleague and summarized this rivalry:

This rivality was really building from the people of the newspapers and the fans. But I think it was very good for both of us, because the publicity was so big and it created a very big interest about me and Maria and was very good in the end. But I don’t know why they put this kind of rivality, because the voice was very different. She was really something unusual. And I remember that I was very young artist too, and I stayed near the radio every time that I know that there was something on radio by Maria.[12]

Several singers have opined that the heavy roles undertaken in her early years damaged Callas’s voice.[45] The mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato, Callas’s close friend and frequent colleague, stated that she told Callas that she felt that the early heavy roles led to a weakness in the diaphragm and subsequent difficulty in controlling the upper register.[51]

Louise Caselotti, who worked with Callas in 1946 and 1947, prior to her Italian debut, felt that it was not the heavy roles that hurt Callas’s voice, but the lighter ones.[4] Several singers have suggested that Callas’s heavy use of the chest voice led to stridency and unsteadiness with the high notes.[45] In his book, Callas’s husband Meneghini wrote that Callas suffered an unusually early onset of menopause, which could have affected her voice. Soprano Carol Neblett once said, “A woman sings with her ovaries – you’re only as good as your hormones.”[40]

Critic Henry Pleasants has stated that it was a loss of physical strength and breath-support that led to Callas’s vocal problems, saying,

Singing, and especially opera singing, requires physical strength. Without it, the singer’s respiratory functions can no longer support the steady emissions of breath essential to sustaining the production of focused tone. The breath escapes, but it is no longer the power behind the tone, or is only partially and intermittently . The result is a breathy sound—tolerable but hardly beautiful—when the singer sings lightly, and a voice spread and squally when under pressure.[52]

In the same vein, Joan Sutherland, who heard Callas throughout the 1950s, said in a BBC interview,

[Hearing Callas in Norma in 1952] was a shock, a wonderful shock. You just got shivers up and down the spine. It was a bigger sound in those earlier performances, before she lost weight. I think she tried very hard to recreate the sort of “fatness” of the sound which she had when she was as fat as she was. But when she lost the weight, she couldn’t seem to sustain the great sound that she had made, and the body seemed to be too frail to support that sound that she was making. Oh, but it was oh so exciting. It was thrilling. I don’t think that anyone who heard Callas after 1955 really heard the Callas voice.[53]

Michael Scott has proposed that Callas’s loss of strength and breath support was directly caused by her rapid and progressive weight-loss,[9] something that was noted even in her prime. Of her 1958 recital in Chicago, Robert Detmer would write, “There were sounds fearfully uncontrolled, forced beyond the too-slim singer’s present capacity to support or sustain.”[17]

Photos and videos of Callas during her heavy era show a very upright posture with the shoulders relaxed and held back. On all videos of Callas from the period after her weight loss, “we watch… the constantly sinking, depressed chest and hear the resulting deterioration”.[54] This continual change in posture has been cited as visual proof of a progressive loss of breath support.[9][39]

Commercial and bootleg recordings of Callas from the late 1940s to 1953—the period during which she sang the heaviest dramatic soprano roles—show no decline in the fabric of the voice, no loss in volume and no unsteadiness or shrinkage in the upper register.[18] Of her December 1952 Lady Macbeth—coming after five years of singing the most strenuous dramatic soprano repertoire—Peter Dragadze would write for Opera, “Callas’s voice since last season has improved a great deal, the second passagio on the high B-Natural and C has now completely cleared, giving her an equally colored scale from top to bottom.”[15] And of her performance of Medea a year later, John Ardoin writes, “The performance displays Callas in as secure and free a voice as she will be found at any point in her career. The many top B’s have a brilliant ring, and she handles the treacheroustessitura like an eager thoroughbred.”[18]

In recordings from 1954 (immediately after her 80-pound weight loss) and thereafter, “not only would the instrument lose its warmth and become thin and acidulous, but the altitudinous passages would to her no longer come easily.”[9] It is also at this time that unsteady top notes first begin to appear.[18] Walter Legge, who produced nearly all of Callas’s EMI/Angel recordings, states that Callas “ran into a patch of vocal difficulties as early as 1954”: during the recording of La forza del destino, done immediately after the weight loss, the “wobble had become so pronounced” that he told Callas they “would have to give away seasickness pills with every side”.[29] When asked whether he felt the weight loss affected Callas’s voice, Richard Bonynge stated, “I don’t feel it, I know it did. I heard her Norma in 1953, before she lost all that weight, and then again afterward, and the difference was incredible. Even more incredible was that the critics didn’t write about it. When Callas was at her best vocally, she was fat, but she got only a quarter of the recognition that she got after she had become thin and was a great star.” [55]

There were others, however, who felt that the voice had benefitted from the weight loss. Of her performance of Norma in Chicago in 1954, Claudia Cassidy would write, “there is a slight unsteadiness in some of the sustained upper notes. but to me her voice is more beautiful in color, more even through the range, than it used to be”.[17] And at her performance of the same opera in London in 1957 (her first performance at Covent Garden after the weight loss), critics again felt her voice had changed for the better, that it had now supposedly become a more precise instrument, with a new focus.[17] Many of her most critically acclaimed appearances are from the period 1954–1958 (NormaLa Traviata,Sonnambula and Lucia of 1955, Anna Bolena of 1957, Medea of 1958, to name a few).

Callas’s close friend and colleague Tito Gobbi thought that her vocal problems all stemmed from her state of mind:

I don’t think anything happened to her voice. I think she only lost confidence. She was at the top of a career that a human being could desire, and she felt enormous responsibility. She was obliged to give her best every night, and maybe she felt she wasn’t [able] any more, and she lost confidence. I think this was the beginning of the end of this career.[12]

In support of Gobbi’s assertion, a bootleg recording of Callas rehearsing Beethoven‘s aria “Ah! Perfido” and parts of Verdi‘s La forza del destino shortly before her death shows her voice to be in much better shape than much of her 1960s recordings and far healthier than the 1970s concerts with Giuseppe Di Stefano.[18]

Soprano Renée Fleming has stated that videos of Callas in the late 1950s and early 1960s reveal a posture that betrays breath-support problems:

I have a theory about what caused her vocal decline, but it’s more from watching her sing than from listening. I really think it was her weight loss that was so dramatic and so quick. It’s not the weight loss per se… But if one uses the weight for support, and then it’s suddenly gone and one doesn’t develop another musculature for support, it can be very hard on the voice. And you can’t estimate the toll that emotional turmoil will take as well. I was told, by somebody who knew her well, that the way Callas held her arms to her solar plexus [allowed her] to push and create some kind of support. If she were a soubrette, it would never have been an issue. But she was singing the most difficult repertoire, the stuff that requires the most stamina, the most strength.[39]

Dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt, who lost 135 pounds after gastric bypass surgery, expressed similar thoughts concerning her own voice and body:

Much of what I did with my weight was very natural, vocally. Now I’ve got a different body—there’s not as much of me around. My diaphragm function, the way my throat feels, is not compromised in any way. But I do have to think about it more now. I have to remind myself to keep my ribs open. I have to remind myself, if my breath starts to stack. When I took a breath before, the weight would kick in and give it that extra Whhoomf! Now it doesn’t do that. If I don’t remember to get rid of the old air and re-engage the muscles, the breath starts stacking, and that’s when you can’t get your phrase, you crack high notes.[56]

Callas herself attributed her problems to a loss of confidence brought about by a loss of breath support, even though she does not make the connection between her weight and her breath support. In an April 1977 interview with journalist Philippe Caloni, she stated,

“My best recordings were made when I was skinny, and I say skinny, not slim, because I worked a lot and couldn’t gain weight back; I became even too skinny. . . I had my greatest successes–Lucia, Sonnambula, Medea, Anna Bolena–when I was skinny as a nail. Even for my first time here in Paris in 1958 when the show was broadcast through Eurovision, I was skinny. Really skinny.” [57]

And shortly before her death, Callas confided her own thoughts on her vocal problems to Peter Dragadze:

I never lost my voice, but I lost strength in my diaphragm. … Because of those organic complaints, I lost my courage and boldness. My vocal cords were and still are in excellent condition, but my ‘sound boxes’ have not been working well even though I have been to all the doctors. The result was that I overstrained my voice, and that caused it to wobble. (Gente, October 1, 1977)[4]

Whether Callas’s vocal decline was due to ill health, early menopause, over-use and abuse of her voice, loss of breath-support, loss of confidence, or weight loss will continue to be debated. Whatever the cause may have been, her singing career was effectively over by age 40, and even at the time of her death at age 53, according to Walter Legge, “she ought still to have been singing magnificently”.[29]

The latter half of Callas’s career was marked by a number of scandals. During performances of Madama Butterfly in Chicago, Callas was confronted by a process server who handed her papers about a lawsuit brought by Eddy Bagarozy, who claimed he was her agent. Callas was photographed with her mouth turned in a furious snarl. The photo was sent around the world and gave rise to the myth of Callas as a temperamental prima donna and a “Tigress”. In 1956, just before her debut at the Metropolitan OperaTime ran a damaging cover story about Callas, with special attention paid to her difficult relationship with her mother and some unpleasant exchanges between the two.

In 1957, Callas was starring as Amina in La sonnambula at the Edinburgh International Festival with the forces of La Scala. Her contract was for four performances, but due to the great success of the series, La Scala decided to put on a fifth performance. Callas told the La Scala officials that she was physically exhausted and that she had already committed to a previous engagement, a party thrown for her by her friendElsa Maxwell in Venice. Despite this, La Scala announced a fifth performance, with Callas billed as Amina. Callas refused to stay and went on to Venice. Despite the fact that she had fulfilled her contract, she was accused of walking out on La Scala and the festival. La Scala officials did not defend Callas or inform the press that the additional performance was not approved by Callas. Renata Scotto took over the part, which was the start of her international career.

In January 1958, Callas was to open the Rome Opera House season with Norma, with Italy’s president in attendance. The day before the opening night, Callas alerted the management that she was not well and that they should have a standby ready. She was told “No one can double Callas”.[12] After being treated by doctors, she felt better on the day of performance and decided to go ahead with the opera.[9] A survived bootleg recording of the first act reveals Callas sounding ill.[18] Feeling that her voice was slipping away, she felt that she could not complete the performance, and consequently, she cancelled after the first act. She was accused of walking out on the president of Italy in a fit of temperament, and pandemonium broke out. Press coverage aggravated the situation. A newsreel included file footage of Callas from 1955 sounding well, intimating the footage was of rehearsals for the Rome Norma, with the voiceover narration, “Here she is in rehearsal, sounding perfectly healthy”, followed by “If you want to hear Callas, don’t get all dressed up. Just go to a rehearsal; she usually stays to the end of those.”[58] The scandal became notorious as the “Rome Walkout”. Callas brought a lawsuit against the Rome Opera House, but by the time the case was settled thirteen years later and the Rome Opera was found to be at fault for having refused to provide an understudy,[40] Callas’s career was already over.

Callas’s relationship with La Scala had also started to become strained after the Edinburgh incident, and this effectively severed her major ties with her artistic home. Later in 1958, Callas and Rudolf Bing were in discussion about her season at the Met. She was scheduled to perform in Verdi’s La traviata and in Macbeth, two very different operas which almost require totally different singers. Callas and the Met could not reach an agreement, and before the opening of Medea in Dallas, Bing sent a telegram to Callas terminating her contract. Headlines of “Bing Fires Callas” appeared in newspapers around the world.[6] Maestro Nicola Rescigno later recalled, “That night, she came to the theater, looking like an empress: she wore an ermine thing that draped to the floor, and she had every piece of jewellery she ever owned. And she said, ‘You all know what’s happened. Tonight, for me, is a very difficult night, and I will need the help of every one of you.’ Well, she proceeded to give a performance [of Medea] that was historical.”[59]

Bing would later say that Callas was the most difficult artist he ever worked with, “because she was so much more intelligent. Other artists, you could get around. But Callas you could not get around. She knew exactly what she wanted, and why she wanted it.”[12] Despite this, Bing’s admiration for Callas never wavered, and in September 1959, he sneaked into La Scala in order to listen to Callas record La Gioconda for EMI.[6] Callas and Bing reconciled in the mid 1960s, and Callas returned to the Met for two performances of Tosca with her friend Tito Gobbi.

In her final years as a singer, she sang in MedeaNorma, and Tosca, most notably her Paris, New York, and London Toscas of January–February 1964, and her last performance on stage, on July 5, 1965, at Covent Garden. A television film of Act 2 of the Covent Garden Tosca of 1964 was broadcast in Britain on February 9, 1964, giving a rare view of Callas in performance and, specifically, of her on-stage collaboration with Tito Gobbi.

In 1969, the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini cast Callas in her only non-operatic acting role, as the Greek mythological character of Medea, in his film by that name. The production was grueling, and according to the account in Ardoin’s Callas, the Art and the Life, Callas is said to have fainted after a day of strenuous running back and forth on a mudflat in the sun. The film was not a commercial success, but as Callas’s only film appearance, it documents her stage presence.

From October 1971 to March 1972, Callas gave a series of master classes at the Juilliard School in New York. These classes later formed the basis of Terrence McNally‘s 1995 play Master Class. Callas staged a series of joint recitals in Europe in 1973 and in the U.S., South Korea, and Japan in 1974 with the tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano. Critically, this was a musical disaster owing to both performers’ worn-out voices.[6] However, the tour was an enormous popular success. Audiences thronged to hear the two performers, who had so often appeared together in their prime. Her final public performance was on November 11, 1974, in Sapporo, Japan.

In 1957, while still married to husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Callas was introduced to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis at a party given in her honour by Elsa Maxwell after a performance in Donizetti‘s Anna Bolena.[9] The affair that followed received much publicity in the popular press, and in November 1959, Callas left her husband. Michael Scott asserts that Onassis was not why Callas largely abandoned her career, but that he offered her a way out of a career that was made increasingly difficult by scandals and by vocal resources that were diminishing at an alarming rate.[9] Franco Zeffirelli, on the other hand, recalls asking Callas in 1963 why she had not practiced her singing, and Callas responding that “I have been trying to fulfill my life as a woman.”[12] According to one of her biographers, Nicholas Gage, Callas and Onassis had a child, a boy, who died hours after he was born on March 30, 1960.[60] In his book about his wife, Meneghini states categorically that Maria Callas was unable to bear children.[61] As well, various sources dismiss Gage’s claim, as they note that the birth certificates Gage used to prove this “secret child” were issued in 1998, twenty-one years after Callas’s death.[62] Still other sources claim that Callas had at least one abortion while involved with Onassis.[63] In 1966, Callas renounced her U.S. citizenship at the American Embassy in Paris, to facilitate the end of her marriage to Meneghini.[4][64] The relationship ended two years later in 1968, when Onassis left Callas in favour of Jacqueline Kennedy. However, the Onassis family’s private secretary, Kiki, writes in her memoir that even while Aristotle was with Jackie, he frequently met up with Maria in Paris, where they resumed what had now become a clandestine affair.[60]

Callas spent her last years living largely in isolation in Paris and died at age 53 on September 16, 1977, of aheart attack. A funerary liturgy was held at Agios Stephanos (St. Stephen’s) Greek Orthodox Cathedral on rue Georges-Bizet, Paris, on September 20, 1977, and her ashes were interred at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. After being stolen and later recovered, in the spring of 1979 they were scattered over the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Greece, according to her wish.

During a 1978 interview, upon being asked “Was it worth it to Maria Callas? She was a lonely, unhappy, often difficult woman,” music critic and Callas’s friend John Ardoin replied,

That is such a difficult question. There are times when certain people are blessed—and cursed—with an extraordinary gift, in which the gift is almost greater than the human being. Callas was one of these people. It was as if her own wishes, her life, her own happiness were all subservient to this incredible, incredible gift that she was given, this gift that reached out and taught us things about music that we knew very well, but showed us new things, things we never thought about, new possibilities. I think that is why singers admire her so. I think that’s why conductors admire her so. I know it’s why I admire her so. And she paid a tremendously difficult and expensive price for this career. I don’t think she always understood what she did or why she did it. She usually had a tremendous effect on audiences and on people. But it was not something she could always live with gracefully or happily. I once said to her “It must be a very enviable thing to be Maria Callas.” And she said, “No, it’s a very terrible thing to be Maria Callas, because it’s a question of trying to understand something you can never really understand.” She couldn’t really explain what she did. It was all done by instinct. It was something embedded deep within her.[65]

So

Notable recordings

All recordings are in mono unless otherwise indicated. Live performances are typically available on multiple labels.

Sources: YouTube, Wikipedia, Mariacallas.com, IMDB, NMDB

Kenny Rankin

Kenny Rankin (Los Angeles, February 10, 1940 – June 7, 2009) was an American pop and jazz singer and songwriter originally from the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, New York.

Rankin was raised in New York and was introduced to music by his mother, who sang at home and for friends. Early in his career he worked as a singer-songwriter, and developed a considerable following during the 70s with a steady flow of albums, three of which broke into the Top 100 of the Billboard Album Chart. His liking for jazz was evident from an early age, but the times were such that in order to survive his career had to take a more pop-oriented course. By the 90s, however, he was able to angle his repertoire to accommodate his own musical preferences and to please a new audience while still keeping faith with the faithful. Rankin’s warm singing style and his soft, nylon-stringed guitar sound might suggest an artist more attuned to the supper-club circuit than the jazz arena, but his work contains many touches that appeal to the jazz audience.

Rankin appeared on The Tonight Show more than twenty times. Host Johnny Carson was so impressed by him that he wrote the liner notes to Rankin’s 1967 debut album Mind Dusters, which featured the single “Peaceful.” Kenny’s friend Helen Reddy would reach #2 Adult Contemporary and #12 Pop in 1973 with a cover of it, released as her follow-up single to “I Am Woman”. Georgie Fame also had a hit with this song in 1969, his only songwriting credit to hit the British charts reaching number sixteen and spending 9 weeks on the chart.

Rankin’s accompanists from time to time included Alan Broadbent, Mike Wofford and Bill Watrous, and on such occasions the mood slips easily into a jazz groove. His compositions have been performed by artists such as Mel Tormé and Carmen McRae, while Stan Getz said of him that he was “a horn with a heartbeat”. Rankin was deeply interested in Brazilian music and his Here In My Heart, on which he used jazz guests including Michael Brecker and Ernie Watts, was recorded mostly in Rio De Janeiro. More contemporary songs were given an airing following his move to Verve Records, including the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and Leon Russell‘s “A Song For You.”

“When Sunny Gets Blue”

“Dreamsville”

Rankin’s own unique gift for reworking classic songs such as The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” which he recorded for his Silver Morning album, so impressed Paul McCartney that he asked Rankin to perform his interpretation of the song when McCartney and John Lennon were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

“Groovin”

“On and On”

He can be heard singing the song “Miles From Here” in the first episode of the television series Fame titled “Metamorphosis”.

Rankin was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer just three weeks before he passed. He died in Los Angeles, California – where he had resided for many years – from the disease on June 7, 2009. He was 69 years old.

“Blame It On My Youth”

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, imdb.com

Farewell Etta James

Etta James, whose powerful, versatile and emotionally direct voice could enliven the raunchiest blues as well as the subtlest love songs, most indelibly in her signature hit, “At Last,” died Friday morning in Riverside, Calif. She was 73.

Her manager, Lupe De Leon, said that the cause was complications of leukemia. Ms. James, who died at Riverside Community Hospital, had been undergoing treatment for some time for a number of conditions, including leukemia and dementia. She also lived in Riverside.

Ms. James was not easy to pigeonhole. She is most often referred to as a rhythm and blues singer, and that is how she made her name in the 1950s with records like “Good Rockin’ Daddy.” She is in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.

She was also comfortable, and convincing, singing pop standards, as she did in 1961 with “At Last,” which was written in 1941 and originally recorded by Glenn Miller’s orchestra. And among her four Grammy Awards (including a lifetime-achievement honor in 2003) was one for best jazz vocal performance, which she won in 1995 for the album “Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday.”

Regardless of how she was categorized, she was admired. Expressing a common sentiment, Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote in 1990 that she had “one of the great voices in American popular music, with a huge range, a multiplicity of tones and vast reserves of volume.”

“At Last”

For all her accomplishments, Ms. James had an up-and-down career, partly because of changing audience tastes but largely because of drug problems. She developed a heroin habit in the 1960s; after she overcame it in the 1970s, she began using cocaine. She candidly described her struggles with addiction and her many trips to rehab in her autobiography, “Rage to Survive,” written with David Ritz (1995).

Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, 1938. Her mother, Dorothy Hawkins, was 14 at the time; her father was long gone, and Ms. James never knew for sure who he was, although she recalled her mother telling her that he was the celebrated pool player Rudolf Wanderone, better known as Minnesota Fats. She was reared by foster parents and moved to San Francisco with her mother when she was 12.

She began singing at the St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles at 5 and turned to secular music as a teenager, forming a vocal group with two friends. She was 15 when she made her first record, “Roll With Me Henry,” which set her own lyrics to the tune of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ recent hit “Work With Me Annie.” When some disc jockeys complained that the title was too suggestive, the name was changed to “The Wallflower,” although the record itself was not.

“The Wallflower” rose to No. 2 on the rhythm-and-blues charts in 1954. As was often the case in those days with records by black performers, a toned-down version was soon recorded by a white singer and found a wider audience: Georgia Gibbs’s version, with the title and lyric changed to “Dance With Me, Henry,” was a No. 1 pop hit in 1955. (Its success was not entirely bad news for Ms. James. She shared the songwriting royalties with Mr. Ballard and the bandleader and talent scout Johnny Otis, who had arranged for her recording session. (Mr. Otis died on Tuesday.)

“I’d Rather Go Blind”

In 1960 Ms. James was signed by Chess Records, the Chicago label that was home to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and other leading lights of black music. She quickly had a string of hits, including “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “Trust in Me” and “At Last,” which established her as Chess’s first major female star.

She remained with Chess well into the 1970s, reappearing on the charts after a long absence in 1967 with the funky and high-spirited “Tell Mama.” In the late ’70s and early ’80s she was an opening act for the Rolling Stones.

After decades of touring, recording for various labels and drifting in and out of the public eye, Ms. James found herself in the news in 2009 after Beyoncé Knowles recorded a version of “At Last” closely modeled on hers. (Ms. Knowles played Ms. James in the 2008 movie “Cadillac Records,” a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Chess.) Ms. Knowles also performed “At Last” at an inaugural ball for President Obama in Washington.

When the movie was released, Ms. James had kind words for Ms. Knowles’s portrayal. But in February 2009, referring specifically to the Washington performance, she told an audience, “I can’t stand Beyoncé,” and threatened to “whip” the younger singer for singing “At Last.” She later said she had been joking, but she did add that she wished she had been invited to sing the song herself for the new president.

Ms. James’s survivors include her husband of 42 years, Artis Mills; two sons, Donto and Sametto James; and four grandchildren.

Though her life had its share of troubles to the end — her husband and sons were locked in a long-running battle over control of her estate, which was resolved in her husband’s favor only weeks before her death — Ms. James said she wanted her music to transcend unhappiness rather than reflect it.

“Something’s Got A Hold On Me”

“A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.”

Sources: PETER KEEPNEWS, New York Times, youtube, imdb.com, nmdb.com