It aint over till the fat lady sings

It seems like this phrase often applies to political inaugurations. Usually, you’ll see the ex-president and in-coming president on the podium. A moment of silence and a rather obese female singer solemnly starts. I haven’t researched this. I’m sure there’s been at least one slender singer. :wink: But, most times the phrase is all too true.

It’s nearly impossible not to think of this expression. It fits too perfectly.
I think a lot of governors have similar ceremony’s.

However, it is now known that Cook did not coin the phrase; Fred R. Shapiro found and published an example in The Yale Book of Quotations which appeared in the Dallas Morning News on 10 March 1976:

Despite his obvious allegiance to the Red Raiders, Texas Tech sports information director Ralph Carpenter was the picture of professional objectivity when the Aggies rallied for a 72-72 tie late in the SWC tournament finals. “Hey, Ralph,” said Bill Morgan, “this… is going to be a tight one after all.” “Right,” said Ralph. “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

In the same newspaper on 26 November 2006, Steve Blow followed up the discovery by contacting Bill Morgan about the incident: “Bill vividly remembers the comment and the uproar it caused throughout the press box. He always assumed it was coined on the spot. ‘Oh, yeah, it was vintage Carpenter. He was one of the world’s funniest guys,’ said Bill, a contender for that title himself.”

While Cecil addresses the coining of the phrase, I think he missed the intent of the original question. Which is illuminated by Cecil’s blythe correction of the question, rather than realizing the missing part of the question was the source of the confusion.

My take on Dolly’s question wasn’t “when did people start saying this?”, but rather “When does a fat lady singing end something? What takes a fat lady signing to end?”

It may seem obvious, but people have very different knowledge bases, so what’s obvious to you may be oblivious* to another.

The answer is that operas typically have a climactic song that is sung by a noted senior opera lady (diva), typically a soprano. These ladies are known for their lung size over their athleticism, so tend to the portly side. Thus, if you haven’t had “the fat lady” sing yet, you can expect there’s more to come.


*Intentionally misused because it’s funny that way.

Nice response. That was my point about the Presidency. One day you’re running the worlds most powerful nation. The change of power traditionally includes the fat lady singing just prior to taking the oath. For the ex-president it really is over - after the fat lady sings. He’s just another plain citizen tending his lawn and playing golf.

Could you tell us the names of the “fat ladies” that sang at the last four or five presidential inaugurations?

I was making a general observation about singers at the inaugural ceremony. Usually they are female sopranos and somewhat obese. This isn’t cast in stone. But, I’m pretty sure a song is always sung just prior to administering the oath.

I’ve seen every inauguration since Jimmy Carter.

George Bush broke the pattern.
Staff Sgt. Alvy Powell sang at Bush’s inaugural ceremony in 1989
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_n6_v44/ai_7473601/

Soprano Marilyn Horne sang at Clintons first inaugural ceremony in 1993
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/inaug/history/stories/clint92.htm

soprano Jessye Norman sang at his second inaugural ceremony in 1997
http://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/Family/html/inauguration1997.html

Can’t find Bush’s singer in 2001. They always have somebody. Reporter didn’t list her.
http://dcpages.com/Government/Inaugural_Events_2001/Swearing_In_Ceremony/

Bush in 2005
soprano Denyce Graves
http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-01-13-inauguration-sked_x.htm

Aretha Franklin was at Obama’s. Sadly, she fits the fat lady image too. I remember her fondly from the 1960’s as a very sexy lady.
http://www.nme.com/news/aretha-franklin/42194

I love Google. :wink: Looks like the tradition of a singer before the oath started with Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953.
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/After-An-Inauguration-The-Stars-Come-Out-To-Play.html

From what I’ve found, it looks like the only male singer was at G Bush’s 1989 inaugural ceremony. I guess he just had to be different. :smiley: Although, he’s a big guy too.

I suppose this is just opinion unless we can tell what Ralph Carpenter was really thinking, but I gotta think that the fat-lady-as-opera-soprano-diva idea is much more likely than a possible famous-singers-at-the-inaugural source.

My main problem with the inaugural singers idea is that while inaugurals are indeed the ending of one term for a prez, they’re just a lot more famous for being the dawn of a new day, full of hope for the success of the new (or returning) prez.

I don’t think aceplace57 is asserting it is the source of the phrase, just that the phrase seems to apply.

Correct, the phrase certainly applied to the opera first. It also fits well in other areas (like the inauguration), but the older opera has to be the inspiration. I’ve noticed some of the younger opera singers hit the gym now. :wink:

I don’t know about the “athleticism” part. My teacher used to sweat off about ten pounds in a typical performance. Opera is serious business – one exercise I used to do was lie supine and have my wife sit on my chest; then I’d repeatedly lift her using only my ribcage – and I was never more than a part-time semipro.

It really has more to do with the the fact that a higher lung capacity and larger stronger “singing muscles” in the torso (not the diaphragm as people assume) are easier to get on someone with a larger frame, and these people tend to gain weight more easily.

Another theory I found by Googling is that the voice box vibrates more freely and is more resonant when surrounded by a lot of fatty tissue, and, thus, fatter people are more likely to sound more rich in their upper ranges.

I’m also interested in the fact that you have someone sit on your rib cage and lift them. What exactly does this accomplish? Is not the ribcage almost always raised when singing? Or was my choral teacher/voice trainer wrong? (I have a vocal music minor.)

It’s exercise for the related muscles. 'Fraid I can’t give more detail than that; I’m just a computer programmer who fell into doing a little opera on the side, almost by accident. (I also act in Renaissance faires. I suppose nowadays I have to qualify that and say unmiked Renaissance faires.)

John W. Kennedy said:

Dude, it’s a euphamism.

Besides, when most people think “athleticism” they think sprinting and jumping, not taking deep breaths and then exhaling. Deep breathing in “athleticism”** is a by-product, not a primary intent*.


*Okay, in aerobics it is a primary intent. I’m still talking about sprints and marathons and gymnastics and basketball and things like that. Their primary intent is the event that is athletic. The breathing is just natural human body function.

**Besides, it’s a euphamism.