Anita Ellis

April 10, 2017

April 12 this year was Anita Ellis’s 97th birthday. A remarkably gifted singer, she suffered from crippling stage fright, but although this severely restricted her career she was fortunate in finding a role out of public sight dubbing the singing voice for film actresses in Hollywood. Among these are Vera-Ellen in The Belle Of New York and Three Little Words, Marie Windsor in Dakota Lil, Jeanne Crain in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, and especially for Rita Hayworth in The Lady From Shanghai, The Loves Of Carmen and, spectacularly, in Gilda.anita rita

 

I recall pianist Loonis McGlohon telling me that Anita’s stage fright affected her even when she was in the company of friends. He told of a recording date at his studio, which was at his home, and how she was badly affected even though only the accompanying trio and a recording engineer were present. Listening to that album, you would never know. Unhappily, Loonis also told me how he would call on Anita whenever he was in New York although as Alzheimer’s took hold she did not know who he was. Even worse, and revealing just how heartbreakingly cruel this disease can be, she no longer knew that she had been a singer.anita e-3anita e-2anita e.1

Just how good she was can be heard on any of her albums; for example, Thinking Of You, The World In My Arms, and the poignantly titled I Wonder What Became Of Me. All of these and more of Anita Ellis’s albums can be found at walk-in or on-line stores, including Amazon.

 

Back in 1979 Anita made a 30-minute film talking about her childhood, working with Orson Welles, the origins of music, and singing several songs. The apparent absence of stage fright in this film is striking and surprising. At the close of this film, Anita sings an a capella version of Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child that is quite beautiful. This film can be seen on Youtube.

Singers like Anita Ellis who dubbed for film stars were almost never credited at the time or even later as sometimes publicizing their work was contractually forbidden. In recent years, an actor’s inability to sing adequately has been aided by the latest technology. However hopelessly out of tune an actor’s singing voice might be, it can be altered so that even the most inadequate will appear to be pitch perfect. Way back before these technological adjustments were possible it was the dubber who shone, however secretly. Some of these dubbers were remarkably prolific. Jo Anne Greer dubbed for May Wynn in The Caine Mutiny, Kim Novak in Five Against The House, Susan Kohner in Imitation Of Life, Esther Williams in Jupiter’s Darling, Rita Hayorth in Sadie Thompson, Pal Joey and Affair In Trinidad, and Gloria Grahame in Naked Alibi. Martha Mears was the singing voice for Lucille Ball in The Big Street and DuBarry Was A Lady, Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl and Tonight And Every Night, Michele Morgan in Higher And Higher, Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn and Meet Me On Broadway, Veronica Lake in I Wanted Wings, Isn’t It Romantic?, Star Spangled Rhythm and This Gun For Hire, and Jennifer Jones in Portrait Of Jennie. Bonnie Lou Williams sang songs for Virginia Mayo in Always Leave Them Laughing, Piper Laurie in Ain’t Misbehavin’, June Haver in The Daughter Of Rosie O’Grady and Oh, You Beautiful Doll, Jayne Mansfield in Illegal and Alexis Smith in Montana. Marnie Nixon’s singing voice was heard dubbing songs for Deborah Kerr in An Affair To Remember and The King And I, Margaret O’Brien in Big City and The Secret Garden, Jeanne Crain in Cheaper By The Dozen, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story. In the last-named film, Richard Beymer was dubbed by Jimmie Bryant, who observed to me that he and Marnie did not meet for the remarkable and timeless duet they sang, she being on the east coast while he was on the west. You would never know it from the warm togetherness of their sounds. A striking quality that many of these singers had was an ability to adjust their voices so that they resembled the speaking voices of the actors. This meant that audiences would readily believe that they really were hearing the actors sing. Some dubbers had singing careers outside the studios and albums by them have been reissued over the years, some in CD format (for these go to Amazon). When these old films are shown on television they do not always stand up to present-day expectations but even when the films are poor, the unseen contributions by behind-the-scenes singers shine who can now be admired for their remarkable skill.

Anyone interested in the work of singers who dubbed for actors in films should go to MOVIE DUBBERS, a site built by Ray Hagen (with Laura Wagner, Steven Tompkins et al). This is an extensive listing (some 700 films) and it is from there that I have taken some of the details shown above.

Jazz CD Reviews – early April 2017

April 1, 2017

Cathy Segal-Garcia In2uition (Dash Hoffman DHR 1021)

When a singer chooses to perform songs accompanied only by a single instrument she or he is wide open to the closest examination. Quite simply, there’s no place to hide. Not that there is any need for Cathy Segal-Garcia to conceal her considerable talent on this exceptionally satisfying double album. The songs Cathy has chosen are especially meaningful to her, reflecting as they do relationships both musical and personal. Joined only by a pianist on twelve of the fourteen tracks, Cathy sings with eloquent charm and deep understanding of the lyrics; indeed, on some songs she brings to the surface qualities not always uncovered by other singers. Cathy’s accompanist’s are John Beasley (Ruby, My Dear), Gary Fukushima, (I Want To Be Happy and Sleep in Peace), Jane Getz (Ruby), Bevan Manson (Looking For Bill ), Llew Mathews (America), Dave Moscoe (It Never Entered My Mind and Small Hotel), Josh Nelson (I Love You and Song Of My Heart), Vardan Ovsepian (Something We May Never Know), Otmaro Ruiz (Bonita). On the remaining tracks, The Room and Mary O’Shaunessy, Cathy has with her pianist Karen Hammack and violinist Calabia Foti. Some of these songs are familiar but here sound fresh and engaging while the less well known songs include three of Cathy’s originals and one written with Gary Hoffman. There are also songs by Shelby Flint, Bevan Manson, and Samuel A. Ward and Kathryn Bates. The musical relationships explored here are those between singer and accompanist, although they are best described as collaborators. The importance and value of these collaborations is described by Cathy: “I really love the intimacy of performing as a duo, because it allows you to establish a deep musical dialogue.” This singer’s considerable talent allows her to explore and expose the underlying qualities of songs that reflect individuals lost to her in real life. She does this with grace, never descending into mawkishness. Instead there are many profound and moving moments to cherish. Cathy’s vocal sound is a warm contralto that brings added depths and maturity to performances that are of the highest quality. A wholly admirable set that will be admired by many.

For more information on Cathy Segal-Garcia as well as booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

Patrice Williamson+Jon Wheatley Comes Love (Riverlily 003)

Many musicians perform tributes to artists from an earlier generation but it needs talent and understanding to do it well, especially when the dedicatees are iconic figures. Fortunately, Patrice Williamson and Jon Wheatley are aware of the potential pitfalls in venturing into the special world of Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass and have taken considerable and loving care in developing this project. As a youngster, Patrice heard sacred and secular music at home, including records by Ella. While studying classical flute at the University of Tennessee she fell in with the jazz crowd and this brought back her early love for Ella’s singing.comes-love-cover She studied voice at New England Conservatory under jazz singer Dominique Eade, later joining the faculty at Berklee College of Music where her collaborator here, Jon, is also a faculty member. Patrice learned that experiences in her own life mirrored those of Ella who had once remarked: “I’ve had some wonderful love affairs and some that didn’t work out. I don’t want to dwell on that and I don’t want to put people down, but I think of all the fabulous places I’ve been, the wonderful things that have happened to me, the great people I’ve met – that ought to make a story.” Patrice and Jon have certainly made a story, and it is one that they tell through the lyrics of songs that include Comes Love; ’Tis Autumn, which ponders upon the maturing of a relationship; Take Love Easy, a cautionary tale for all who begin a love affair; Lush Life, a richly evocative story of a past affair. However familiar some songs might be, they are vividly re-imagined by Patrice, a fine singer with a creamily attractive voice, and Joe, a fluent guitarist with an unerring sense of swing. Patrice’s voice has a mature aural quality and an air of vibrancy. Added to this is her admirable interpretation of lyrics and the integrity she displays in always delivering a jazz performance. Perhaps Dominique Eade summed up her talent best when she said: “Patrice is a hard-swinging interpreter and a refreshingly accomplished jazz vocal improviser.” This very good album, released on the 100th anniversary of Ella’s birth, will appeal to all who love hearing good songs sung well.

For more information on Patrice Williamson as well as booking details, contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr.com).

Buy now from Amazon.

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