September 4, 2016

20,000 Vinyl LPs 66: Florence Foster Jenkins ~ The Glory (????) of the Human Voice

I have been in love with the legend of Florence Foster Jenkins since the late 60s when I discovered this re-issue of her recordings of the 40's on RCA Victor.  

I remember the day I found it in the basement of the Sea of Records at 116 Ninth Street just off Mission in San Francisco. I spent many hours digging around there uncovering the most amazing records. Woody Badger was the store manager; why I remember his name is a mystery.  

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice
vinyl LP cover detail
 detail photo by Styrous®

I had never heard of Jenkins before but I read the liner notes, was intrigued, so I bought the album  (I did that a lot with records).  

When I got home and listened to the recording, I was fascinated from the moment I heard her voice; and I have been even to this day (links to her singing on YouTube below). She's described as having great difficulty with such basic vocal skills as pitch, rhythm, and sustaining notes and phrases. But despite her lack of vocal perfection, the story of her determination and chutzpah combined with a tin ear, to say nothing of her money, totally amazed me. She managed to perform at Carnegie Hall. How many people can hold that claim? I am in awe of her.     

Carnegie Hall program 
October 25, 1944


photographer unknown

When I heard that Meryl Streep was going to portray Jenkins, I was delirious with joy. I could hardly wait; I thought to myself, no one else could better capture the flavor of the singer. Well I caught the film today and I was not in any way disappointed.

 Florence Foster Jenkins theater tickets
photo by Styrous®

And it was shown in an Art Deco theater right out of the same era Madam Jenkins lived in. The Alameda Theater was built in 1932 in Alameda, California.      

photo by Styrous®

The film is exquisite! The casting was sensational, and Streep was nothing but momentous as Jenkins! They did an extraordinary job of portraying the era; Jenkins inspiring Stephen Foster in her tableaux (more on that below) was brilliantly recreated. They did manage to make them a bit more grandiose in the film. However, who cares?  

There were many surprises about the film: one of the production companies involved in the film, Pathé, was the subject of my last blog (link below). Another was the credits at the end list Streep as doing her own singing!     WOW!   

Then, there was the role of her pianist, Cosmé McMoon, portrayed by Simon Helberg of Big Bang fame. He put in a stellar performance.    

Cosmé McMoon
1901 - 1980
photographer unknown

There is a great website, History Hollywood, that compares the characters in the film to the real-life people portrayed as well as facts about the life of Jenkins (link below).  

A biography about Jenkins has been written by Nicholas Martin.    

photo by Styrous®

Born into a wealthy Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, family, Nascina Florence Foster took piano lessons up until the age of 15, when she married 30-year-old Dr. Frank Jenkins, who most likely gave her syphilis, a then-incurable disease. When the pair separated after three years, she kept the doctor’s name and returned to music, attending the Philadelphia Academy of Music.     

Jemkins moved to New York City and with the help of her father’s inheritance started programming musical recitals. As the "chairman of music" for many social organizations, she began producing lavish tableaux vivants—popular diversions in social circles of that era. 

Florence, standing, 
performs for guests in her home
New York, 1937 

Jenkins home
New York, 1937

In each of these productions, Jenkins would cast herself as the main character in the final tableau, wearing an elaborate costume of her own design. In a widely republished photograph, Jenkins poses in a costume, complete with angelic wings, from her tableau inspired by the Howard Chandler Christy painting, Stephen Foster and the Angel of Inspiration. Jenkins inspiring Stephen Foster has been brilliantly recreated in the film.     

Florence Foster Jenkins
"Angel of Inspiration"
photographer & date unknown

During a performance in 1909, she met St. Clair Bayfield, an accomplished English actor who became her partner and later her manager.    

August 2, 1875 -  May 19, 1967 
photographer unknown

Two days after her performance at Carnegie Hall, Jenkins suffered a heart attack and one month later she died in her Manhattan home. She was 76.      

The album

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice (RCA Victor) was originally issued by RCA Victor in 1962, the album includes eight selections by Jenkins and features her on the cover in one of her many recital costumes, "Angel of Inspiration".   

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice
vinyl LP
photo by Styrous®

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice
vinyl LP
detail photo by Styrous®

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice
vinyl LP back cover
photo by Styrous®

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice
vinyl LP back cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

There had to be something to back up the album as there were not enough sings by Jenkins to fill an entire disc. The problem was solved one day when Jenny Williams and Thomas Burns came to the RCA studio to record an album for their personal use. RCA convinced them to put their recording session on the B side of the Jenkins album as A Faust Travesty. Their recording now lives forever.     

Jenny Williams and Thomas Burns 
A Foust Travesty 
vinyl LP back cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice
vinyl LP back cover detail
track list
detail photo by Styrous®

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice
vinyl LP side 1
photo by Styrous®

The Glory (????) of the Human Voice
vinyl LP side 1 label 
detail photo by Styrous®

Jenny Williams and Thomas Burns 
A Faust Travesty 
vinyl LP side 2
photo by Styrous®

Jenny Williams and Thomas Burns 
A Faust Travesty 
vinyl LP side 2
detail photo by Styrous®


Side 1: 

Florence Foster Jenkins 

A1 - The Magic Flute: Queen Of The Night Aria composed by Mozart*   

A2 - The Musical Snuff-Box composed by Liadoff*, words by Adele Epstein   

A3 - Like A Bird composed by McMoon*, words by Mme. Jenkins*   

A4 - Lakmé: Bell Song composed by Delibes*         

A5 - The Pearl Of Brazil: Charmant Oiseau composed by David*         

A6 - Biassy composed by Pavlovich*, Bach* words by Pushkin*     

A7 - Die Fledermaus: Adele's Laughing Song composed by Johann Strauss Jr., words by Lorraine Noël Finley

Side 2: 

Jenny Williams and Thomas Burns      
Faust In English composed by Charles Gounod

B1 - Valentine's Aria (Ere I Leave My Native Land)     

B2 - Jewel Song (O Heavenly Jewels)     

B3 - Salut, Demure (Emotions Strange)     

B4 - Final Trio (My Heart Is Overcome With Terror)     

Companies, etc.

    Copyright (c) – RCA


    Liner Notes – Francis Robinson
    Piano – Cosmé McMoon (tracks: A1 to A7)
    Vocals – Florence Foster Jenkins (tracks: A1 to A7)
    Vocals – Jenny Williams (tracks: B1 to B4)
    Vocals – Thomas Burns (tracks: B1 to B4)


© 1962, RCA, New York, N.Y.
Made in U.S.A.

Later US pressing on the 1968-1976 style RCA Red Seal label omitting "Victor" and Nipper image.
Barcode and Other Identifiers

    Matrix / Runout (stamped, Side A): M2 RP1669-1S
    Matrix / Runout (stamped, Side B): M2 RP1670-1S
    Matrix / Runout (label, Side A): M2RP-1669
    Matrix / Runout (label, side B): M2RP-1670

Net links:            
Florence Foster Jenkins on YouTube:  
Track 1 ~ Queen of the Night, Mozart
Track 2 ~ Musical Snuffbox, for piano or orchestra, Op 32      
Track 3 ~ Like a Bird    
Track 4 ~ Lakmé: Bell Song           
Track 5 ~ The Pearl of Brazil: Charmant Oiseau         
Track 6 ~ Valse Caressante, Biassy                       
Track 7 ~ Adele's Laughing Song, Die Fledermaus        

Jenny Williams and Thomas Burns on YouTube:
Track 1 ~ Valentine's Aria (Ere I Leave My Native Land)           
Track 2 ~ Jewel Song (O Heavenly Jewels)         
Track 3 ~ Salut, Demure (Emotions Strange)    ~ Valentine's Aria (Ere I Leave My Native Land)   Track 4 ~ Final Trio (My Heart Is Overcome With Terror) sung as a duet

Pathé Records & early phonography             

Florence Foster Jenkins history on YouTube   
Meryl Streep & Hugh Grant interview on YouTube            
Meryl Streep interview on YouTube                     
The Guardian - Jenkins biography review
Florence Foster Jenkins facts on History Hollywood          

"People say I can't sing, but they can't say I didn't sing!"
                                               - Florence Foster Jenkins

Styrous® ~ Sunday, September 4, 2016 

No comments:

Post a Comment

PLEASE NOTE: comments are moderated BEFORE they are posted so DO NOT appear immediately.

Thank you.