Thursday, October 30, 2008

Old Man River

William Warfield was one of America's premier baritones of the 20th Century. He is famous for singing the premier performance of Aaron Copeland's Old American Songs and Porgy in Porgy and Bess. Warfield also performed in the 1951 remake of Show Boat singing the iconic song "Ol Man River." His recording session for the film was done in a single take and had the orchestra in tears.

I was lucky enough to attend his 80th birthday celebration at Northwestern University in 2000. The evening featured many different performances from the American songbook by many up-and-coming musical stars and students. The highlight of the evening was, of course, Warfield (or "Uncle Billy" as his students affectionately called him) singing "Ol Man River." By the third note or so, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Most profoundly, thought, Warfield changed the lyrics to the final verse. He pointed out that the lyrics:
I get weary
And sick of tryin'
I'm tired of livin'
And scared of dyin'

were better represented in his life as follows:
I get weary
And sick of tryin'
I keep on livin'
Until I'm dyin'
But Ol' Man River
He just keeps rolling along.

Happy Birthday: Richard Sheridan (1751-1816) & Zoe Akins (1886-1958)

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