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Thread: Florence Foster Jenkins:Worst soprano ever?

  1. #1
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    Post Florence Foster Jenkins:Worst soprano ever?

    Florence Foster Jenkins (July 19, 1868 – November 26, 1944) was an American soprano who became famous for her complete lack of rhythm, pitch, tone, and overall singing ability.

    Born Florence Foster in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Charles Dorrance Foster and Mary Jane Hoagland, Jenkins received music lessons as a child, and expressed a desire to go abroad to study music. Her wealthy father refused to pay the bill, so she eloped to Philadelphia with Frank Thornton Jenkins, a medical doctor. The two divorced in 1902. She earned a living there as a teacher and pianist. Upon her father's death in 1909, Jenkins inherited a sum of money which allowed her to take up the singing career that had been discouraged by her parents and former husband. She became involved in the musical life of Philadelphia, and later New York City, where she founded and funded the Verdi Club, took singing lessons, and began to give recitals, her first in 1912. Her mother's death in 1928 gave her additional freedom and resources to pursue singing.

    From her recordings, it is apparent that Jenkins had little sense of pitch and rhythm and was barely capable of sustaining a note. Her accompanist can be heard making adjustments to compensate for her tempo variations and rhythmic mistakes. Her dubious diction, especially in foreign language songs, is also noteworthy. Nonetheless, she became tremendously popular in her unconventional way. Her audiences apparently loved her for the amusement she provided rather than her musical ability. Critics often described her work in a backhanded way that may have served to pique public curiosity.

    Despite her patent lack of ability, Jenkins was firmly convinced of her greatness. She compared herself favorably to the renowned sopranos Frieda Hempel and Luisa Tetrazzini, and dismissed the laughter which often came from the audience during her performances as coming from her rivals consumed by "professional jealousy." She was aware of her critics, however, saying "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."

    The music Jenkins tackled in her recitals was a mixture of the standard operatic repertoire by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi and Johann Strauss (all of them well beyond her technical ability), Lieder (including works by Johannes Brahms and Joaquín "Quinito" Valverde's Clavelitos [Carnations], a favorite encore), and songs composed by herself or her accompanist, Mr. Cosmé McMoon, who reportedly made faces at Jenkins behind her back to get laughs.

    Jenkins often wore elaborate costumes that she designed herself, sometimes appearing in wings and tinsel, and, for Clavelitos, throwing flowers into the audience while fluttering a fan and sporting more flowers in her hair. After each performance Cosmé McMoon would collect these flowers from the auditorium in readiness for redistribution at the next one.
    After a taxicab crash in 1943 she found she could sing "a higher F than ever before." Instead of a lawsuit against the taxicab company, she sent the driver a box of expensive cigars.

    In spite of public demand for more appearances, Jenkins restricted her rare performances to a few favorite venues, and her annual recital at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom in New York City. Attendance at her recitals was always limited to her loyal clubwomen and a select few others – she handled distribution of the coveted tickets herself. At the age of 76, Jenkins finally yielded to public demand and performed at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 1944. So anticipated was the performance that tickets for the event sold out weeks in advance. Jenkins died a month later. She had lived with her manager St. Clair Bayfield, an American stage actor, for 36 years.

    Jenkins recorded nine arias on five 78-rpm records, which have been reissued on three CDs. The Muse Surmounted: Florence Foster Jenkins and Eleven of Her Rivals (Homophone Records) contains only one Jenkins performance, Valse Caressante, for voice, flute and piano, but it includes an interview with the composer, who was also her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon. The Glory (????) of the Human Voice (RCA Victor) contains the other eight arias, all accompanied by McMoon. Murder on the High C's (Naxos Records) contains all nine arias plus performances by others, but it lacks the interview with McMoon.

    Stephen Pile, in his 1979 Book of Heroic Failures lists Florence Foster Jenkins as the The World's Worst Opera Singer. He noted that she gained the sobriquet of 'La Jenkins' within her lifetime. The description of her 'successes' are complete, and mentions too that in one performance of her show-stopper Clavelitos (see above) she not only threw the carnations, but followed them with the basket. Her farewell concert at Carnegie Hall is described in brief.

    Interest in Jenkins was revived in 2001 when Viva La Diva, a play about Jenkins by Chris Ballance, had a run at the Edinburgh Fringe. Another play about Jenkins's life, Souvenir, by Stephen Temperley, opened on Broadway in November 2005, and starred Judy Kaye as Jenkins. Kaye commented that "It's hard work to sing badly well. You could sing badly badly for a while but you'll hurt yourself if you do it for long." A third play about Jenkins, Glorious! by Peter Quilter, opened two months earlier in England; it has since been widely translated and performed in more than 20 countries.

    Jenkins is mentioned in several works by musical artists. Boston-based indie folk band The Everyday Visuals released a song "Florence Foster Jenkins" on their self-titled LP in 2009. The song references her performance at Carnegie and other aspects of her life. A hidden track entitled "Encore for Florence" concludes folk singer Mary Hampton's debut album My Mother's Children.

    Jenkins, dubbed "Flo Fo" by NBC's Brian Williams (a pun on "Flo Jo," the nickname of the late athlete Florence Griffith Joyner), was the subject of the "Not My Job" segment of NPR's Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! for October 25, 2009, when Williams was the show's special guest that week. The episode appropriately took place in Carnegie Hall.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Gillespie, IL
    My ears... My ears.... holy ... wow....

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    There's a play about her? I could totally play that...
    Performing my signature monkey hump move since 10/16/2007...

    RIP Dad- 11/14/1947 to 12/16/2013

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2010

    Poor Ms. Jenkins. She couldn't sing her way out of a bag from the apothecary shoppe.

    Although Jenkins made few recordings, she unknowingly paved the way for certain singers of the future:

    We, here on earth, are fortunate to have Tina Chen, who is the modern pop-hot-mess-bitch-goddess equivalent of Florence Foster Jenkins.

    I present the following as evidence:

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Corralitos, Cal
    She still sings better than Yoko Ono.

    Then again, who doesn't?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    San Francisco Bay Area
    When I first started to listen to this, I had the volume up too loud. My dog (who had been passed out asleep all night on the couch) put her head up, looked at me, and then jumped down and went in the other room. I don't blame her. That's some voice....
    Rudolph Valentino 1895-1926

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    She was far from a good singer, but she put her heart into it and was always herself. Kind and generous. So much so that she supported the New York music scene in any way she could. That's what garnered her the support of people like Toscanini (I did turn the volume down during some of her arias to protect my poor cat's ears though, lol).

    "Men with two wives don't have opinions. They just smile and nod a lot." Abe Vigoda

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    San Diego CA
    OMG , no no no just no.
    "My Darling Girl ,when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage." ~Aunt Frances~ #METOO grandpa Jan 8,1927-March 9, 2006 Grandma Nov 6, 1926-June 28, 2018. Forever loved and missed always in my heart.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Surprised no one has mentioned the movie about Flo Fo starring Meryl Streep.

    Streep was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, because of course she was.
    Sincerely yours,

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Turner Classic Movies have talked about her a
    few times, people in films of the 1930s would joked about her
    Carolyn(1958-2009) always in my heart.

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