I’ve been listening to some Ethel Merman tunes like this ( 3 meg mp3) and, even given the limitations of the old audio it’s seens evident she’s basically “belting” these songs with little tonal grace, limited range and a fairly nasal voice.
Was it that ther powerful voice overcame the lack of (or poor quality) amplification for large crowds in the 30’s ? Her personality? What?
Different times, different standards. Yes, the ability to be heard over an orchestra without a mic (which didn’t exist) or megaphone (which obstructed and was unwieldy at best) was a real plus in those days. Also, the general “brashness” worked well for most of the material. She rode that fame into the 60’s, 70’s and even appeared on “The Love Boat” in 1982 (her last credit at IMDB).
She was a powerful performer, no subtle, and that is, in part, what made her great.
I saw her live, once, when I was a kid. My dad took me to Chicago with him on a business trip. She was doing Gypsy with a travelling troupe. She had an incredible stage presence, just a sizzling electricity whenever she walked onstage. Despite her vocal quirks, she had a voice that could pin your ears back. She was one of the few singers outside of opera who didn’t really need a microphone.
Did she ever! I saw her live in 1979, which would have made her 71 years old. I suppose she didn’t have the voice she had in 1939, but I have NEVER seen anyone work a crowd so well! I’ve seen Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen - all masters of working the crowd - and all of them could have taken lessons from Ethel Merman!
I rented a documentary from Netflix called Hidden Hollywood. It included quite a few song-and-dance numbers from old movies that had been trimmed away for any number of reasons. One of these featured Ethel Merman, and I was stunned by how good she sounded. I’ve never been fond of the belting style that she is permanently associated with, but in this clip she didn’t sound anything like that.
Walloon is correct, the microphone having been invented in the 1880’s or thereabouts. I should have said not in use. Merman began her career in the 1920’s, her big break was singing “I Got Rhythm” in 1930 production of “Girl Crazy”. Before that she had done work in Vaudville.
I apologize for spreading false information about microphones.
I really like Alice Faye, and Ethel Merman blows her off the screen in Alexander’s Ragtime Band. **Kizarvexius** mentioned “Hidden Hollywood”. The Alexander’s DVD has Ethel’s cut performance (cut because she shows too vividly how music affects her?) of “Marching Along With Time”, without Joan Collins’s voiceover. Also check out “My Walking Stick” and “Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil”.
There’s an amazing segment of her, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand on The Judy Garland Show. The three of them, Broadway’s old guard (Ethel), former Hollywood Royalty (Judy) and Broadway’s New Star (Barbra) are singing together on “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Ethel takes the number, puts it right in her handbag and walks off with it. She brooks no challenge from Judy (who recognizes that despite her own divahood she is, on this number, no match for La Merman) or from Barbra (who makes a truly pathetic attempt to hold her own and never quite understands that This Number Belongs To Ethel). I can’t say that I am some huge fan of Ethel Merman but that number by itself is sufficient to cement her place in the pantheon.
How can you not smile at her brassiness?
How how how?
I have been imitating Ethel ( and Kate) since high school, at least. It was love at first sound. My suckiness is my own homage to their greatness. at least those that hear me do the impression without me clueing them in know I am doing Ethel or Kate, so that says something. It’s poor woman’s opera.
I listen to a best of Ethel Merman cd in the truck on a near daily basis since I got it. With kids in the car.
I don’t view it as cruel and unusual at all. Mickey Mouse and Barney are far more evil and coma-inducing.
My kids and the rental ones, Love Ethel.
My work is done.
There will never be another Ethel Merman.
Which is too bad.
I’d love to see her in her prime against the Britney’s of day.
Get off my lawn, while you are at it, you meddlesome kids!