blog
01/08/2009
florence foster jenkins massacres mozart
Posted by Paul Dateh

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Long, long, long before William Hung ever graced our television and computer screens, America had its own singing superstar train wreck in a woman named Florence Foster Jenkins. Often called the "first lady of the sliding scale", Jenkins was mainly famous for just one thing: having one of the most terrible voices ever heard.

According to this Wikipedia entry, Jenkins was born in 1868 in Pennsylvania. She received music lessons from a young age, but somewhere along the line, her father decided to stop funding her musical education. I think you might guess as to why.

Despite discouragement from her parents and husband, Jenkins took the inheritance she received from her father's death and pursued her singing career. She performed her first recital in 1912, and the legend of her talent was born.

Jenkins complete lack of pitch and rhythm didn't harm her career; in fact, she may not have had a career at all if she actually sang any better. Wild stories about her life also undoubtedly contributed to her fame. According to the same Wikipedia article, Jenkins was involved in a taxicab crash in 1943 after which she was apparently able to sing "a higher F than ever before". Rather than suing the taxi company, Jenkins sent the driver a "thank-you" box of expensive cigars.

Just like our favorite characters on today's "American Idol", Jenkins was convinced she had a great voice. She also dismissed her critics by saying, "People may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say that I didn't sing."

And she definitely did sing. I've embedded a recording of Ms. Jenkins' rendition of Mozart's Queen of the Night (from the opera The Magic Flute) above for your... enjoyment.

Jenkins' story does have some tragic aspects to it, however. After constant demand from the public, she finally agreed to give a concert at New York City's famous Carnegie Hall in 1944. A month after her performance, Jenkins' passed away at the age of 76. Rumors circulated that her death was caused by the harsh words of her critics, but no one can ever know for certain.

Still, music's main goal is to bring happiness to people's lives, and Jenkins definitely accomplished that -- although likely not in the manner in which she originally intended. Even after over 60 years since her passing, her legend lives on. Her recordings have become major collector's items and have even gone viral on sites like YouTube. I think that's definitely something worth respecting.

I wonder if we'll be celebrating William Hung in the same way, 60 years from now. We can only hope.

P.S. In the case you'd like to hear what Mozart's "Queen of the Night" sounds like when performed by other professional singers, I've embedded a video of a more "traditional" rendition below.

[ Via: Alex Nazaryan ]

filed: music
tags: mozart, opera, singing, terrible