© 2015 Adriaan Fuchs. All rights reserved.

Ethel Merman

“A voice like that comes along just once, and it echoes down Broadway to this day.”

– Adam Feldman

Great Interpreters Goes Broadway! – Program 1: Ethel Merman
Broadcast on Fine Music Radio on 5 June 2015.

No other performer embodies the spirit of the Great White Way more than Ethel Merman, the stenographer from Queens, New York, who became arguably the most enduring star in the history of Broadway. After sky-rocketing to fame in 1930 singing “I Got Rhythm” in the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, Merman became the darling of such legendary songwriters as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Jule Styne. During her career, which spanned more than 50 years, she starred in leading roles in a whopping 13 original musicals, nearly all of them hits. Among the iconic roles she created were Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun and Mama Rose in Gypsy.

Merman burst onto the scene during the 1930s and 40s, providing one of the brightest talents to emerge during the golden age of the American musical theatre. Belting out her songs with merry abandon, she helped electrify the Broadway musical, and although she often insisted that her success was a matter of luck, her talent remains the stuff of legend. When the theater had no sound amplification, here was a star who could sell a song all the way up to the second balcony, hit every note on the mark, hold it as long as needed, make every syllable distinct, and win laughs to boot – these are the qualities that made Merman a unique, and unparalleled, artist.

And while her trademark megaphone-like, brassy voice was never aesthetically pleasing in the traditional sense, nor her performances the most nuanced, or expressive, that would be missing the point of Ethel Merman. As Adam Feldman points out: “Merman’s wailing-siren volume and down-to-earth verve made her a paragon of bumptious urban energy; her robustness helped power the emergence of the Broadway-musical genre itself. “There’s no business like show business,” she famously sang, and when she sang, there was no point arguing. A voice like that comes along just once, and it echoes down Broadway to this day.”

In this On And Off The Record podcast, the first in a series of eight programs dedicated to the great women of musical theater, Adriaan Fuchs explores the life and career of the one-and-only original Broadway broad, Ethel Merman.

Podcast Track List

1) “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun
Lyrics and music by Irving Berlin.
Recorded in 1972.

2) “Everything’s Coming up Roses” from Gypsy
Music by Jule Styne.
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Recorded in

3) “I Got Rhythm” from Girl Crazy
Music by George Gershwin.
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin.
Recorded in 1931.

4) “Blow Gabriel Blow” from Anything Goes
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

5) “I Get A Kick Out of You” from Anything Goes
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

6) “Doin’ What Comes Natur’ally” from Annie Get Your Gun
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

7) “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

8) “Hostess with the Mostess” from Call Me Madam
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

9) Medley from The Ford 50th Anniversary Television Show
Ethel Merman
Mary Martin
Recorded “live” on June 15, 1953.

10) “Some People” from Gypsy
Music by Jule Styne.
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

11) “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy
Music by Jule Styne.
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

12) “World, Take Me Back” from Hello, Dolly!
Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman.
Recorded in 1970.

13) “You’re The Top” from Anything Goes
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

Videos

Ethel Merman in an interview conducted by Gene Shalit for the Museum of the City of New York, recorded in 1983 – a year before her death:

An Evening With Ethel Merman, an hour-long concert filmed by the BBC in 1964:

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