For many years Lillian Russell (1869-1922) was the foremost singer of operettas in America, performing continuously through the end of the 19th century. Her voice, stage presence and beauty were the subject of a great deal of fanfare in the news media, and she was extremely popular with audiences. Actress Marie Dressler observed, "I can still recall the rush of pure awe that marked her entrance on the stage. And then the thunderous applause that swept from orchestra to gallery, to the very roof."
When Alexander Graham Bell introduced long distance telephone service on May 8, 1890, Russell's voice was the first carried over the line. From New York City, Russell sang "Sabre Song" to audiences in Boston and Washington, D.C.
Russell was married four times, but her longest relationship was with Diamond Jim Brady, who supported her extravagant lifestyle for four decades. Russell rode a bicycle custom made for her by Tiffany & Co. It was a gold-plated machine that displayed the jeweler's art at its most opulent and unconventional - the handlebars inlaid with mother-of-pearl and the wheel spokes featuring her initials set in diamonds.
In 1899, Russell had joined the Weber and Fields's Music Hall. Weber and Fields began as a two man show in the genre of ethnic German humor. They were a funny man/straight man comedy duo, a precursor to such famous acts as Abbott & Costello and Laurel & Hardy. They later expanded their act into the genre of vaudeville known as "Burlesque" -- musical stage shows that broadly and somewhat raucously parodied other well-known contemporary Broadway shows, without the striptease acts with which the term was later associated.
After Russell retired from the stage she kept herself busy writing a newspaper column, becoming active in the women's suffrage movement (as her mother had been), and was also a popular lecturer on personal relationships, health and beauty, advocating an optimistic philosophy of self-help and drawing large crowds.
Before the 1902 production of the Weber and Fields revue TWIRLY WHIRLY, John Stromberg, who had composed several hit songs for Russell, delayed giving her solo to her for several days, saying that it was not ready. Stromberg, who had suffered severely from debilitating arthritis for many years, was also dealing with the failure of his investment in "Stromberg Park," a real-estate development in Freeport, Long Island, with streets named after various Weber and Fields performers. When Stromberg committed suicide (by ingesting Paris Green insecticide) a few days before the first rehearsal, sheet music for "Come Down Ma Evenin' Star" was discovered in his coat pocket. It became Russell's signature song and is the only one she is known to have recorded. Hers is a stunningly beautiful performance - and she and the orchestra seem to move and breathe freely together. One can almost feel the breeze and see the stars from a long ago enchanted night. (I got most of this info from Wikipedia, except for the last couple of sentence which are mine.)
"Ireland is the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality by popular vote. It's a massive statement." ---Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Irish Justice and Equality Minister
Craver Hicks Watson & Newberry did a little tour up North in the middle of April. We played at the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music, in Wilmington, DE Fri. April 10th, then a house concert in Bryn Athyn PA on April 11, and the Susquehana Folk Music Society in Harrisburg PA on April 12th.
I found this clip of the 19th century Spanish opera singer Adelina Patti singing "Home Sweet Home". There is real truth and beauty in it. People don't sing like this anymore. Giuseppe Verdi described her in 1877 as being perhaps the finest singer who had ever lived. This recording was made in 1905 when Patti was about 62. Adapted from American actor and dramatist John Howard Payne's 1823 opera CLARI, the song's melody was composed by Englishman Sir Henry Bishop, with lyrics by Payne. Thanks to Edward St. Austell for posting it.
GARTH BECKINGTONA couple of weeks ago I began thinking, out of the blue, about Garth Beckington. I didn't know him well, but I remembered him (he was the kind of person one didn't forget) from the late 60's music scene in Chapel Hill. NC when we were both at the university there. I had no idea what had happened to Garth so out of curiosity I googled him and found out that he he was gone, that he had in fact died last summer. There is a very good remembrance of him in this wordpress piece written by Will Stenberg, one of Garth's bandmates in his most recent band "The Blushin' Roulettes". I myself was not in a band with Garth way back when, but he sat in once or twice with one of the bands I was in then. When Will's article mentioned how Garth (aka "Buddy Stubbs") sought the shadows on stage and secluded himself there while his music poured forth, it all came back to me. I remember being quite impressed with his sense of style, and his blues playing, which was pretty astute for a "college kid". I also remembered him as seeming unfriendly and on the cool and distant side. But after reading Will's piece I think Garth must have just been shy (as I was too.) Anyway, Will has remembered him very vividly, and with great depth and respect.
My article in
From the vaults of the L'ARGILE ROUGE RANDONNEURS, here's some sonic gems. First up is Tommy and the band doing "Twisted Laurel", recorded at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, VA on April 24, 1982. Personnel: Tommy Thompson guitar and vocals, Jim Watson bass and vocals, Mike Craver piano and vocals, Clay Buckner fiddle, Jack Herrick harmonica. Then there's Tommy doing his hilarious version of "Oh How I Wish I Was in Peoria", Mike doing "Bidin' My Time", and Jim doing "Jerusalem Morning", a song he learned from his father. The three last tunes are from a gig at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, in October 1983. Special thanks to John Sheffler at WCMU FM for digging these up!
"Twisted Laurel" (live)"
"Oh How I Wish I Was in Peoria"
"Bidin' My Time"
"I Ain't Dead Yet" (Mike Craver) -- a new one, from THE QUEEN OF THE COWTOWNS
"Asenalooga" (Mike Craver) -- and another, from THE QUEEN OF THE COWTOWNS
Summer Fall 2009
Fall Winter 2005
Spring Summer 2005