Richard and I watched a concert online by Stephanie Blythe on April 10, 2021. She’s one of my favorite opera singers, though lately she’s pivoted her career to singing songs from the American songbook, accompanying herself on the ukulele.
The concert was called *When April Showers Come Your Way.* She started the concert by saying she was happy to be celebrating spring, a time of hope and resurgence, which according to her, we need now more than ever, “at the end of a long friggin’ tunnel.”
Her first song was “Spring, Spring, Spring” from *Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.* She said the lyrics by Johnny Mercer were “even more confounding than ‘June Is Busting Out All Over.’” Ha! It was impressive how she was able to be free and loose with the rhythm in her singing while chock chock chocking along with a steady beat on the uke.
Next, another Mercer song, “Jeepers, Creepers.” It’s so instructive how Blythe gives the background on the songs. I had no idea this song was introduced by Louis Armstrong in a movie, and he sang it to a horse!
She sang “Bein’ Green” and said, “As a little fat girl, I related to this song because I equated being green to being fat.” She sang the song with a disarming tenderness, it was deeply moving.
I didn’t think I’d heard of “The Garden Song,” but once she started I realized I did know it. She said it was one of the first songs she learned on the ukulele because it only has three chords. Gotta love that.
She turned it over to her drag alter ego Blythely Oratonio, who surprised me at least by wearing more eye makeup than Blythe herself! He sang “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” and invested all of his tenorial stentorianisms into this little wisp of a song. Hilarious.
Blythe said that Mercer was coming out of a personal and professional crisis when he wrote the lyrics to “Moon River” and he brought that to the song, he filled it with such longing and personal meaning. Blythe brought all of that out in her performance. This song has always meant a lot to me but it means more these days because I’m now working at Tiffany!
“I Want To Be Bad” is a delightful song I didn’t know, a song about a nice girl wanting to be bad! I can relate! Here it is sung by the one and only Helen Kane:
She told a tremendous story about Irving Berlin, who went through a double crisis in the early 30s: he lost all his money in the stock market crash and he and his wife had their young son die of illness. Berlin wrote two notable songs during this period: “Say It Isn’t So” and “How Deep Is the Ocean?” She sang “Say It Isn’t So” in the Dietrich manner - - she sang it all the way through and then did a repeat speaking the first half of the song and then singing the big finish.
“April Showers” was a sing-along. Did Richard and I sing along? Yes we did. Am I the only person who thinks of The Barry Sisters when I hear “Without a Song”? Two minutes of dynamite! Love those gals!
She sang a rainbow song medley: “Look To the Rainbow,” “Over the Rainbow,” and one of Blythe’s most beloved songs, “The Rainbow Connection.”
She told a story about songwriter Harry Woods, who was born with no fingers on his left hand. He was a drinker and was in a bar one night and some guy said something he didn’t like so he Harry attacked the guy, threw him to the floor, and beat him bloody with his left hand with no fingers. The cops came in and carried him off. A lady at the bar said to the guy next to her, “How awful! Who was that guy?” And the other guy said, “That’s the songwriter Harry Woods. He wrote ‘Try a Little Tenderness.’” Ha! Blythe sang one of Woods’s best-known songs, “Side By Side.”
Blythe and Oratonio did a duet together, through the magic of technology. “Inch Worm.” Cute song. Fascinating how their voices really have different timbres.
She closed the show with “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).” Words to live by.