Josephine Baker: The black diamond

Josephine Baker was an undeniable superstar. But that super stardom was earned in Europe because Baker had a pigmentation problem for White America.

Born into U.S. poverty in 1906, this multi-talented dancer, chanteuse, sex symbol, raconteur, fashionista and all-round powerhouse was packing all the elite nightclubs in Europe by 1930. She was as big, or bigger, to the French and other Europeans as Edith Piaf became.

Hollywood largely shunned her although there are some obscure forays into film in the 30s-40s period, when the world descended into the insanity of WW2. But Baker survived the war and continued to perform for another 30 years, even appearing at Carnegie Hall in a triumphant 1973 concert.

Some have called her the first international black superstar although today she is not accorded the place she rightfully earned. Her accessible, direct style, fluttering vibrato and sensuous vocals are evident in this rare television appearance from the early 70s. At a mere 62, when most entertainers have hung it up, she delivers an energetic medley of  American songbook hits to be climaxed with–of course–the Charleston, a dance she made an international sensation.

Josephine Baker Live

Enjoy.

 

Sean O’Meara is a Los Angeles-based singer available for bookings with his one man-show, American Songbook Gold.

 

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Eileen Farrell: The Irish Girl Who Could

One of the most exceptionally versatile singers of any age was Eileen Farrell. Starting in radio in the 1940s, she had her very own show in a matter of months and for Eileen Farrell that was just the beginning.

While she always kept her roots tethered in jazz and the great American songbook, Farrell’s prodigious vocal talents would soon carry her to the heights of the operatic world where she would score enormous success on stages across the world with her enormous, beautiful voice. Easily produced and supported with spot-on diction, Farrell could sing virtually anything: Arlen to Bernstein to Ponchielli to Wagner. In the mid-50s she dubbed the singing voice for actress Eleanor Parker for the film biography INTERRUPTED MELODY, detailing the heroic battle Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence waged after she was struck down by polio. Farrell essentially came out of retirement in the early 1970s to record MARIA STUARDA with Beverly Sills–then at the height of her powers–and virtually stole the recording out from underneath the feet of the starry cast.

Conductors loved her not only for her wonderful voice but her kind, generous nature. Happy to be the devoted wife of a New York City police officer, Farrell gave up her operatic career sooner than she had to but kept singing the tunes of her first love, the American Songbook.

Here she rocks a version of “Come Rain or Come Shine” with no less than Leonard Bernstein accompanying on the piano. It was a stint for Public Television and, white hair and all, Farrell proved that she still had it. Notice especially the grinning placement of her brassy sound and the easy, relaxed jaw. She just opened her mouth and let it all come out.

Come Rain or Come Shine

 

Sean O’Meara is a Los Angeles-based singer/performer/entertainer available for bookings from corporate events to private parties.

 

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Eddie Fisher: the velvet baritone

Due to a colossally bad personal decision and ensuing Hollywood scandal compounded by a lifelong addiction to illicit drugs, Eddie Fisher has all but disappeared from the names of America’s best male songbook interpreters.

With the passing of his daughter Carrie and his extraordinary former wife Debbie Reynolds, it seemed like an apt time to give a nod to one of the best trained, well controlled and naturally beautiful voices of the 50’s and 60’s.

If one listens to Fisher compared to Sinatra, Crosby, Martin, Bennett, Damone, Como and other great crooners of this same period, the ear quickly reveals a voice of even emission, sonorous placement and impeccable vowel formation. Fisher was a well trained vocalist and, even with the popular requirement to “swing” a song, he rarely sacrificed any of these qualities that made him the vocal envy of many.

Here is Fisher in the mid-60s (post scandal) at the Hollywood Palace in a smooth and virile rendition of “Mame” from the eponymous Broadway musical with music and lyrics by the great Jerry Herman.

Enjoy!

Eddie Fisher sings “Mame”

 

 

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The Golden Garland

Judy Garland has been called by many respected sources as the “entertainer of the century.” Whether that is true or not I think it is fair to say that there certainly was no one then or now who could deliver the vocal goods quite like Garland or as inimitably.

Judy Garland had a naturally gifted instrument that grew quite quickly, especially once she was under the watchful eye of Roger Edens of MGM. But even before Edens, Garland’s voice at 14 had qualities of a mature woman, with both rich timbre and multiple facets.

There were many very great singers during Garland’s life but she was singular in her ability to “act” a song vocally. Of course, she was an accomplished screen actress in her own right, but without all of that she could simple stand and sing and communicate like no one else. It was all in the voice and her fans rightfully adored her for that.

She also knew what she was doing. Barely five feet tall, this little wren of a woman produced a prodigious sound through solid technique and a completely open throat, something few singers understand about. Despite her abuse of alcohol and drugs, along with cigarette smoking, the technique carried her through to her untimely end.

While she owns many standards in the American Songbook, including Over the Rainbow, The Trolley Song, You Made Me Love You, Weep no More, My Lady and others, if there was one song that captured all the great qualities of this modest paragon I think it would be The Man That Got Away. Written for her by Harold Arlen (who also wrote the music to Oz) for the 1954 film A STAR IS BORN, it’s a spellbinding performance of majestic vocal proportions. In my estimation it’s the greatest torch song performance of all time.

Here is the final version (there were several filmed) of The Man That Got Away from A STAR IS BORN. By the way, if you haven’t seen the restored version, you’re missing one of the great films as well as Garland at her all-time best. Enjoy!

 

 

Sean O’Meara is a Los Angeles singer and entertainer. His one-man show “American Songbook Gold” is available for booking at establishments, parties and corporate events.

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The One and Only Louis

Louis Armstrong possessed one of the most immediately recognizable singing voices in history. Wynton Marsalis has called him the greatest jazz singer of the 20th century. That would be quite a mantle to uphold given the jazz greats produced in the U.S. but it’s certainly true no one was more distinctive than Armstrong.

Not a beautiful voice by any means, his vocals were, nonetheless, inspired by his incomparable career as a trumpet player. He always sang in tune and carried an innate musicality that few singers ever have. As Keely Smith would say, “The man could swing.”

Here is very late Armstrong appearing on the Flip Wilson show demonstrating that, by any means, he still had it!

Armstrong sings Mack the Knife

Sean O’Meara | singer | private, corporate entertainment | party singer | Los Angeles

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Bennett: We’ll always be seeing you

The master lends his inimitable style to this wonderful old standard that’s always, always been one of my favorite American tunes. Written in 1938, “I’ll Be Seeing You” has so many wonderful interpretive opportunities and it has been recorded by many of our best singers.

At this stage, for sheer longevity, there’s no one who can really touch the legendary Tony Bennett, certainly not in his ability to maintain such a high performance standard for decade after decade. He’s a great American songbook treasure … and he’s still going strong.

Enjoy

Sean O’Meara performs his “American Songbook Gold” around Southern California with original arrangements by Ed Martel of some of America’s greatest songs.

Sean O’Meara | singer | private, corporate entertainment | party singer | Los Angeles

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Happy New Year from Miss D

Although a timeless song, I’ve long associated the Gershwin brothers’ OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY with New Years. And, like many of the great standards, this song has been oft recorded, in this case by some of the greatest singers we’ve ever had.

While there’s no bettering Sinatra’s, Fitzgerald’s or even Clooney’s versions of this great ballad, I’ve also had a special shine for Dinah Washington’s 1954 version. This brassiest of band singers somehow strikes just a perfect blend between her signature declamatory ring and fine subtlety. It’s beautiful, moving and memorable – and one of Dinah Washington’s best. Just listen to how she manages that lyric, “… but, oh, my dear …”

Enjoy & Happy 2015.

Sean O’Meara performs his “American Songbook Gold” around Southern California with original arrangements by Ed Martel of some of America’s greatest songs.

Sean O’Meara | singer | private, corporate entertainment | party singer | Los Angeles

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