LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER
LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER
Celebration! Stephanie Blythe Meets Kate SmithAirs Friday, April 19 at 8:00 PM For those of us of a certain age, the hour of 12 Noon evokes memories of Ted Collins on CBS radio introducing a 15-minute program in which the national icon, Kate Smith, along with Mr. Collins, dispensed homespun comment and advice. Who was Kate Smith? Some answers will be provided on our next Live From Lincoln Center on Friday evening, April 19. The program is titled "Celebration: Stephanie Blythe Meets Kate Smith," and will be hosted by Audra McDonald. In the meantime we'll offer a few of our own answers to that question.
She was born Kathryn Elizabeth Smith in Greenville, Virginia near Washington, D.C. on May 1, 1907. As a child she achieved local celebrity as a singer and dancer, and at the tender age of 8 she was awarded a medal by General John J. Pershing, the hero of World War I, for her activity as an entertainer for troops stationed near the Nation's Capitol. As time went on, she aspired to become a Broadway singer despite her parents' wish that she pursue a more "stable" profession. She attended a nursing college for a while, but the pull of the stage became irresistible and when she was offered a week's engagement in vaudeville, out went the nursing idea. In the later 1920s she appeared in no fewer than four Broadway shows - as a comedienne. But it was on the still new medium of radio, and later on television and recordings, that Kate Smith became KATE SMITH.
The turning point came in 1931 when the above-mentioned Ted Collins, then an executive at the Columbia Phonograph Company, persuaded her to make a recording. The healthy sales of that record led to other recordings, which in turn led to Collins offering to manage her career for a 50-50 split of the income. She agreed, and thus the Kate Smith franchise was born! Over the next nearly half century she was a colossus on the American entertainment scene.
Two of her many LP albums may be of particular interest to the Live From Lincoln Center audience: the 1963 album "Kate Smith at Carnegie Hall" and her 1967 collaboration with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. But it was her 1938 recording of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" that made her and the song immortal. Berlin's lyrics and music and Kate Smith's recording of them have become the standard stand-up procedure in the 7th inning stretch of every New York Yankees home baseball game, and remain the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team's good luck charm. In October, 1982 President Reagan bestowed upon Kate Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our country's highest civilian honor. Among his words were these: "In giving us a magnificent, selfless talent like Kate Smith, God has truly blessed America."
Stephanie Blythe is America's stalwart operatic mezzo-soprano. A native of the Catskills region in New York State, she was born into a musical family. She is a 1992 graduate of the Crane School of Music of the State University of New York at Potsdam. The year 1999 was a breakthrough year for her: she was winner of the coveted Richard Tucker Award and triumphed in the role of Cornelia in Handel's "Giulio Cesare." Since then she has been acclaimed internationally for her stunning portrayals in the great opera houses the world over. Her "home house" is New York's Metropolitan Opera. Just this current season she has been heard there in Verdi's "Il Trovatore" and a new production of the composer's "Un Ballo in Maschera" as well as in Wagner's Ring Cycle. In 2011 she appeared with the New York Philharmonic in the premiere performances of John Corigliano's "One Sweet Morning," a work commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11. And a few weeks ago she made her belated Carnegie Hall debut in a program of American music by Samuel Barber, Ray Henderson, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and James Legg.
Stephanie Blythe has also long been a champion of America's rich folk and song tradition and an admirer of Kate Smith's legacy. Her tribute to Kate Smith was taped in February at the Allen Room in Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. With pianist Craig Terry as her musical ally she will sing many of the songs sung by Kate Smith both on radio, in live performance and on records. Among them will be "We'll Meet Again," her theme song "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain," and of course "God Bless America."
Be sure to watch our next Live From Lincoln Center presentation, "Celebration: Stephanie Blythe Meets Kate Smith," on Friday evening, April 19.