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  • Martin Castle

I've got so many bloods in me, I'm part of the world. I don't stand up for one or the other...


I'm a fan of the BBC. I know it has many detractors but where else could you listen to Friday Night is Music Night (still sounding like a broadcast from the 1950s) on a Sunday afternoon? The programme has been running since 1953, first on the BBC Light Programme and now on its successor, BBC Radio 2, making it the world's longest-running live orchestral music radio programme. It is notable for now being one of the few programmes to feature light music on Radio 2.


I digress. The Sunday before last was the BBC Sounds airing of Chichester Broadway - the music of Broadway from the Chichester Festival Theatre, hosted by the singer Liz Robertson and this is where my musing began.


Many good things have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and arrived on our shores. Sometimes these have been objects, items, consumables, ideas and sometimes individuals. One for whom I have fond memories is Elisabeth Welch. I saw her sing in a late night show at the Donmar Warehouse in her mid 80s alongside Liz Robertson. Elisabeth Welch was mesmerising, wearing a shimmering silver sheath dress and with a voice that defied her years. She was funny and beautiful and playful as she sang highlights from a career that spanned seven decades.

Elisabeth Welch was born in Englewood, New Jersey and intended to go from high school into social work, but instead chose to become a professional singer - much to her father's disgust who left the family and she never saw him again - his loss our gain methinks! She started her career in New York in 1922 in Liza. She was the initial singer of the Charleston in the show Runnin' Wild (1923) and appeared in Chocolate Dandies (1924) and Blackbirds of 1928 (titles of their time) but in 1929 she went on to Europe – first to Paris and then to London.


In 1931 she was back in America in The New Yorkers where she took on the controversial Cole Porter song Love for Sale (sung from the point of view of a prostitute) and made it one of her standards. When the song came out in 1930, a newspaper labelled it as 'in bad taste'. Radio stations avoided broadcasting it and because of the complaints, Porter shifted the setting of the song in the musical to the Cotton Club in Harlem where it was sung by an Afro-American (Elisabeth Welch) instead of a white singer - Kathryn Crawford.

Back in London in 1933 she sang "Stormy Weather", newly written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Subsequently, she took the song as her signature tune and famously sang it in Derek Jarman's 1979 film The Tempest. (Remember, she was aged 75 by this time!)



In 1931, she had included in her cabaret act the new song "As Time Goes By", almost a dozen years before it achieved screen fame in Casablanca. Later in the decade she appeared in films, usually as a singer, with her friend Paul Robeson – and was also one of the first artists to perform on television, appearing on the BBC's new TV service from Alexandra Palace - 1936. During World War II, she remained in London during the Blitz. She entertained the armed forces along with many other artists, performing in Malta & Gibraltar. After the war she was in many West End theatre shows, including revues. She continued on both television and radio, and was even in one pantomime, Aladdin! She had a series of one-woman shows (one of which I saw and her version of Time Goes By still sticks in my memory) until 1990. Her final performance was in 1996 for a television documentary, in which she sang "Stormy Weather" at the age of 93.

She died in 2003 at the age of 99.

I offer no apologies for the number of links in this musing - I hope that if you are discovering Elisabeth for the first time you will follow the links and beyond.


Recipe

For such a bright and jolly performer something bright and jolly to enjoy on a warm day.


Fruit Salad with Maple-Lime Dressing

Serves 6

Ingredients:

for the salad

2 red apples cored and diced

2 pears cored and diced

4 clementine oranges peeled and separated into segments

3 kiwi fruit peeled and sliced into thin rounds and then slice rounds into quarters

½ cup dried cranberries

1 cup pomegranate seeds

for the Maple Lime Dressing:

2 tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp lime juice freshly squeezed

Method:

1. Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl.

2. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients.

3. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss to coat.

4. Serve immediately.


The word of the Day is ...

"Flirk"

[flerk] (v.) To flip, throw or toss suddenly. (n.) A sudden throw or toss; a jerk; a flick.


Used in a sentence: “Before I head out for the night, I check the mirror and give my hair a sassy little flirk to ensure maximum spraunciness.” (sprauncy- slang for smart or showy in appearance.)


ps: The quote of the title is part of a conversation about her friend Paul Robeson ... He was a lovely man. We discussed politics naturally, but I'm not politically minded although I follow. And I have my own theories. He said you've got to be a citizen of the world because of this... (she points to the colour of her skin). I said I've got so many bloods in me, I'm part of the world. (Her father was of indigenous American and African American ancestry; her mother was of Scottish and Irish descent.). I don't stand up for one or the other, only for what's right... for decency. He wanted to convert me, but he was very gentle about it. I'll take anybody's arguments if they have a sense of humour with it. And, of course, he laughed so easily. We became great friends. I loved him, and he always came to see me when I was playing.


pps: Paul Robeson was an bass baritone concert artist, stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism - for which he also suffered. (Remember the commentary is original to 1949 and thus the terminology used is also of its time).


ppps: apart from Elisabeth Welch, a favourite Love for Sale of mine is by Miles Davis, with John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley from 1958 (from the CD "Stella By Starlight") and can be heard at this link


pppps: there's a jolly ditty from The New Yorkers called Say it with Gin!


Quotes

"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less." - Marie Curie
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu
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s.dowlatshahi
Jul 14, 2020

I remember that Paul Robeson performed in ‘Porgy and Bess’ and is mostly remembered for singing ‘Summertime’ and ‘Old Man River’ in that very deep and melodious voice of his.

I was not familiar with the name of Elizabeth Welch either, though I am familiar with all the songs mentioned so I probably heard her on the BBC Light Programme during and after WW2, and am glad to get to know her here. Thank you Martin.

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Patti Gaal-Holmes
Patti Gaal-Holmes
Jul 14, 2020

Wonderful, thank you! Not heard of Elisabeth Welch...so grateful to find her here x

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valcaspa
valcaspa
Jul 14, 2020

I remember Elisabeth Welsh at that late night Donmar Warehouse performance. She was incredible. Thanks for the reminder!

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