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Blog Posted in avatar   Steven Young's Blog

Ethel Merman: A voice like no other

By Steven Young
Posted Sep 9, 2011 in Entertainment
Broadway! The Great White Way!"
Who can read these words and not think of 42nd Street, vaudeville, gas lights, music, plays-and wonderful Ethel Merman. One could go on and on.
Several years ago the late Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymore starred in a movie called "Somewhere in Time".
The story revolved around the late Christopher Reeve falling in love with a photo of Jane Seymour hanging on the wall in the hotel where he was staying. To make a long story short, he found a way to go back in time where he met the lovely Ms Seymour.
If I had but one wish, it would be to go back and land right in the middle of Broadway and 42nd St. and listen to the music of Ethel Merman herself. (Carefully, I hope, as they still had horses and coaches at the time!)
During the 1920's and 1930's, there wasn't a lot of things to do in the evenings except the wonderful world of Vaudeville. The ladies and gentlemen of the era had their private balcony seats, but often times the kids of the time would sneak back stage and hide out, watching the show for nothing.
Eleanor Roosevelt started a project called the FMP, or Federal Music Project, which sponsored dozens of symphony orchestras and jazz groups. Its fifteen thousand musicians gave some 225,000 performances, including free concerts in New York's Central Park. It's researchers sought out traditional Appalachian banjo pickers, New England gut-bucket strummers, Texas fiddlers, Tennessee yodelers, and Indiana jug bands-while recording a unique aural archive of America's musical history.
During this period between the 1920's and 1930's, writers like George M Cohen, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, and other writers by the score began writing plays, (mostly musicals), and sent out "cattle calls" to find men and women who could not only sing and act but throw in a truckload of comedy. It was in this era that a young lady by the name of Ethel Agnes Zimmerman (later changed to Ethel Merman) arrived.
Ethel Merman was born in the Astoria section of Queens, New York. Though she had little training in singing, she could belt out a song like no one else at a very young age. She was sought after by many major song writers, such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.
In 1930, she debuted in "Girl Crazy," yet she is remembered for her marvelous starring appearances in so many great musicals that were later adapted to the silver screen. In the film versions, Merman herself starred in "Anything Goes" (1936) and "Call Me Madam" (1953).
Yes, if I had a wish I would go back for a short time to sit in those private balconies and listen to Ethel Merman herself. What joy!

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