Today in 1944, the greatest concert in Carnegie Hall history, featuring a truly incomparable singer: the one and only Florence Foster Jenkins.
I’m going to try to be charitable here, because when someone is known as perhaps the worst opera singer of all time, and the subject of a biopic starring Meryl Streep, they don’t really need me to pile on.
Let’s just say the woman born Narcissa Florence Foster loved music.
And in some ways, music loved her back.
She was a capable pianist, who it’s said gave a recital at the White House at an early age.
Singing, on the other hand… well, did I mention she was a capable pianist?
The problem was that as an adult, Jenkins suffered an injury that kept her from playing high-level piano.
So she turned to singing, which may have been what she wanted all along.
When her wealthy father died in 1909, Jenkins moved with her mother to New York City, where she put herself at the center of numerous social clubs and directed many of their musical productions.
She cast herself to sing the lead parts, While wearing elaborate costumes she had made herself.
Jenkins had one pianist accompany her through much of her singing career, and she put that guy through his paces.
He had to speed up or slow down to account for her uneven rhythm, or sometimes he’d have to change chords or keys when she went off-melody.
One critic said, “She can sing anything but notes.”
And whether society types in New York City loved to HEAR her sing or not, they went to hear her concerts for years.
Her final concert?
The one at Carnegie Hall today in 1944?
She sold the place out!
And in a way that sums up Florence Foster Jenkins.
She once famously said “People may say I can’t sing. But no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”
Today in 1912, the birthday of Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, who became famous as the Grand Ole Opry’s comedian Minnie Pearl.
In her hometown, Centerville, Tennessee, there’s a head and shoulders statue of Minnie made of chicken wire.
It’s even got the $1.98 price tag hanging from her famous hat!
THE WORST SINGER IN THE WORLD (Pacific Standard)
Remembering Florence Foster Jenkins (Carnegie Hall)
Minnie Pearl Chicken Wire Statue (Atlas Obscura)
Photo from the Library of Congress via Wikicommons