CDA x 4: Berlin, Jeanmaire, Mesplé, Ross
Wow, four celebrity deaths to report! I'll give them in an ascending order of how much they meant to me.
First, the Warhol superstar Brigid Berlin. Warhol said about her, "If you ever want to learn what's wrong with you, don't look in the mirror. Give Brigid a glass of wine and she'll tell you." We all need friends like that, right? Also other friends. Here she being interviewed with Warhol:
Second, the French singer, ballerina, movie actor, and cabaret chanteuese Zizi Jeanmaire. She had a minor movie career in Hollywood and was a major ballerina in France, often in works created for her by her husband, Roland Petit. Here she is doing a number from Petit's *Carmen* ballet, with the one and only Baryshnikov:
And here she is doing her signature number, "Mon Truc en Plumes," aka my thing with feathers. I'm not sure it's the Folies Bergère, but it was the Folies Bergère wherever she did this number. The singing isn't so impressive, but she seems to convey a whole way of life, a uniquely French <<joie de vivre.>>
We'll stay in France for our third person, the wonderful French coloratoura soprano Mady Mesplé. Her voice had a wonderful French tartness. Here she is doing her signature number (no feathers on this one), the Bell Song from *Lakmé.*
I have a somewhat long story about her. Please be patient. I got a CD from the Madison Public Library of Mesplé doing Poulenc songs. Amazing. I made a tape of it and listened to it over and over. It was out of print and this was before the days when you could easily make a copy of a CD, so every time I went to a used CD store, I looked for it. No dice.
I went to Palo Alto, CA to visit my friend Lara Venard sometime in the late 90s. I had a free day and she suggested I borrow her bike and go over to Stanford and explore their lovely campus. I got on the bike and realized that it was set up for Lara (5' 4") and not for me (6' 3"). It wasn't worth the trouble of going back and making the adjustments, so I struggled along.
I got to the campus, which was lovely. It started to rain a little bit, so I decided to move on to the Rodin Sculpture Garden and then head back. They were doing some kind of construction work at the sculpture garden and all of the sculptures were covered with wooden boxes. Christo does Rodin. I've never cared for Rodin anyway, so I started biking back.
By now it was raining, for real. Not hard, but steady. The frustration of the rain, the extra effort on the bike, and the Rodin all teamed up to give me a moderate asthma attack. Not a pretty moment for Christopher.
I passed a used CD store and decided, "This day has been such a fiasco, I'm going in there and buying something, anything!" And what do you think I found? The Mady Mesplé Poulenc CD. I'm convinced that I never would have found it if I hadn't had such a lousy day. The nicest silver lining ever.
Here she is singing my favorite song on that CD, "C." Limpid, tragic, sublime.
And last, I just heard about the death of Annie Ross, which has made me genuinely sad. What a life she led! She played Judy Garland's little sister in *Presenting Lily Mars!* Pretty good gig for 13, right? She developed her chops as a jazz singer and was a pioneer in a form called "vocalese," where you take an instrumental solo and put words to it. She did that with a Wardell Gray tune called "Twisted," which Joni Mitchell used as the final track on her *Court and Spark* album. Here's Ross singing it on Hugh Hefner's night clubby TV show, with none other than Count Basie at the piano. She's later joined by her comrades Jon Hendricks and David Lambert (the sensational Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross) and Joe Williams! Tony Bennett sitting by the fire!
I saw her in her nightclub at at Danny's Skylight Room sometime around 2004 or 2005. Her voice was pretty much shot by then, it was about 20% voice and 80% gravel, but she could still deliver a song. Her performance of Victor Herbert's "Kiss Me Again" was one of the most heavenly things I'll ever hear.