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Memories

Ethel Merman

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Album Review

This unlicensed reissue, taking advantage of the 50-year copyright limit on recordings in Europe, actually should have been called "Memories/Selections from A Musical Autobiography," since it combines material from two albums Ethel Merman recorded in 1955. In between Broadway and Hollywood commitments, Merman recorded a rare solo LP in Memories, the first ten tracks on this CD. It was a concept recording devoted to the popular music her mother might have sung to her as a child or that she might have heard before she became a stage star in the early 1930s, songs from Tin Pan Alley that were hits from the 1890s to the '20s. The songs were arranged into ten medleys that combined anywhere from two to six compositions into a single track, such that sometimes only a chorus of a tune was included. Merman's Broadway musical director Jay Blackton was the arranger who also conducted the orchestra, and she was joined by a barbershop quartet, the Old Timers Quartet, and on occasion by the Mitchell Boys Choir. In fact, the quartet got certain selections to itself; the foursome sang "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" without Merman's involvement, for instance. Merman herself appeared in duplicate and triplicate through the magic of overdubbing, performing her own duets and trios on occasion as if she were Mary Ford or Patti Page. She was, as usual, thoroughly confident and effective in singing these songs, just as she was when singing show tunes. The LP bore similarities to the Mitch Miller "singalong" albums that came along later.

Also in 1955, Decca Records assembled a double album called A Musical Autobiography, drawing on its archive of Merman recordings and having her go into the studio to record spoken introductions and make new recordings of songs she had sung on Broadway earlier in her career. In all, there were 15 new versions of songs like "I Got Rhythm" and "Anything Goes," performed in jazzy small-band arrangements with the Buddy Cole Quartet (and sometimes only Cole's piano), and those 15 tracks are added to the ten Memories medleys for the Sepia Records reissue. These are some of the best songs with which Merman was associated, including compositions by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin, and while these are not the original versions, they are well performed, with the introductions making for a recital-like effect.

Biography

Born: 16 January 1908 in New York, NY [Astoria]

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

Ethel Merman was the leading American musical theater performer of her generation, creating roles in 13 Broadway musicals between 1930 and 1959, and continuing to appear in shows occasionally through 1970. Her clarion voice and exact enunciation were perfect for an era when a stage performer was required to sing loud enough to be heard at the back of the theater without amplification. That made her a favorite of the leading songwriters of the day, and she introduced some of the most memorable songs...
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