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Elisabeth Welch Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook

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Album Review

New York born but London stationed, Elisabeth Welch was the grande dame of cabaret singers. She could claim that title on the basis of longevity alone. Her career spanned seven (!) decades by the time she finally decided to retire at the age of 92. Her consummate grasp of the cabaret style also gave her the right to that designation. This album of Irving Berlin songs was recorded in London when Welch was a sprightly 83 years of age. Most of it is standard Berlin material. But there are songs that are rarely performed, such as "Snookey Ookums," "Supper Time," and "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song." The first two probably deserve obscurity. But the last of the trio, written for Bing Crosby for the film Blue Skies, is one of Berlin's most poignant dreamlike romantic ballads, as Welch makes one wonder why it isn't done more often. Welch is accompanied by groups of various sizes, from just piano ("How Deep Is the Ocean"), through small groups with a clarinet or flute lead ("What'll I Do"), to a highly animated big band ("Let's Face the Music and Dance"). Regardless of backing, Welch never loses that sense of intimacy that links her closely to the listener and makes her recordings so compelling and genuine. Listening to Elisabeth Welch sing songs of composers who have numerous listings in the Great American Songbook is akin to listening to Sir John Gielgud read Shakespeare. The knowledge of the material and the authority that knowledge brings to the setting are immediately and irrevocably established. Kudos to Verve for reissuing this session on CD. Highly recommended.

Biography

Born: 27 February 1904 in New York, NY

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

A popular singer of extraordinary versatility and longevity, Elisabeth Welch was a black American actress/singer whose 50-year career took her from...
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Elisabeth Welch Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook, Elisabeth Welch
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