Sunday, January 11, 2009

On the Wings of Vocal Wisdom...on Wib part III

on the wings"I won first place in the Philadelphia contest! So my radio career was started! I was to be twenty two years old in August 1927. In all fairness I must record that Connell’s teaching, his concept of covered tone was only good for radio broadcasting, where the engineer could turn up the knob when volume was needed! Connell had absolutely no idea of how to open the throat for voice release, necessary for concerts and opera in auditoriums without sound-systems. After hearing Ruffo I was pleased to have found my limited field of radio singing! However, I was still aware of my limitations to open up my voice for volume. In retrospect, I remember those famous radio and recordings, the so called singers named Crosby, Como, Sinatra, etc. They all made fortunes with their “radio” voices. None of those people could sing without a microphone stuck up in front of their mouths!”
“Is this singing? Remember Caruso and Ruffo?..Rudy Valle &
Russ Columbia were among the first crooners! These so called radio/recording “singers” were the premier cause of the decline and collapse of the great singers... concerts by Rothberg, Pons, Galli-Curci, John Charles Thomas,Chaliapin, Tibbet, etc. I heard all of them in person! What glorious times and vocal sounds.”
“In April 1927 I entered the Atwater Kent Radio Singing contest in its first city level for Philadelphia. I chose a French classic song called 'Le Cor'- 'The Horn' by Flegier, Which I learned from a Victor Red Seal recording sung by Marcel Journet- a very fine French Basso! So his pronunciation had to be perfect! I loved this song because it covered a two octave range to low D, which I had in my voice but not for opera, only for radio"
“Immediate celebrity status and tremendous change at Curtis! At last the stupid powers that controlled the voice dept.- i.e.: Madame Marcella Sembrich, the world renowned Prima Donna- Metropolitan La Scala etc (a polish lady), I might add that her teaching method or ability ever turned out any world renowned singer! Madame Louise Homer fought for me on the audition board for first place. I am eternally grateful to her.”

In 1927, Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, Jack Dempsey lost to Gene Tunney at Soldier Field in Chicago before 150,000 people, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed and Wilbur Evans, in his second year of study at the Curtis Institute- entered the First Atwater Kent National Radio Singing Contest and out of 50, 000 national contestants won first prize- The seed for 'American Idol'.

Of course, I would love the idea of America embracing the historical construct that my father was America's
first 'American Idol'!

The ten national finalists in front of the White House. Wib is fourth from left.

Fox Movietone News
460 West 54the Street
New York City
Office of THE EDITOR:
December 19, 1927
My dear Mr. Evans:
We greatly appreciate your coming over from Philadelphia to sing for Movietone, and while thanking you for your courtesy may I congratulate you on a really beautiful performance. It is easy to understand how you won the Atwater Kent Competition, and all who heard you will be interested in the future of one who possesses a voice of such promise.
Thanking you for your consideration and the effort you made in our behalf, I am
Sincerely yours,
Courtland Smith
Wilbur W. Evans, Esq.,
c/o Atwater Kent Foundation
Philadelphia, Pa.

After winning this historic contest and the sudden national fame that came with it at twenty two years of age my father admirably put his nose to the grindstone, took advantage of his new two year scholarship at Curtis and abruptly became the ruler of his universe, masterfully honing his art for the years to come.

January 2, 1928
Dear Friend:
I take pleasure in announcing my first recital on Thursday evening, January 8, at 8:30 o’clock, in Fleisher Auditorium, Broad and Pine Streets, under the auspices of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association.
I shall be assisted by Elijah Yardumian, well known pianist.
Hoping to be honored by your presence,
I am
Sincerely yours, Wilbur Evans

This letter marks the first of hundreds, if not thousands of recitals, concerts and radio performances he would give throughout the next ten years.

1928- newspaper quote---
"Wilbur Evans, Philadelphia bass-baritone, who won first award of $5000 in Atwater Kent Audition last year, and famous grand opera stars, were guests of honor at a dinner Saturday night for fifteen boy singers from Northeastern states who sang in New York in semi-finals of Second National Radio Audition. Left to right: Wilbur Evans, Frederick Jaegel, Metropolitan Opera Company; Margaret Cobbey, Chaliapin Opera Company; Lenora Sparkes and Giovanni Martinelli."

Several winning productions later and with a mushrooming radio career, Wib begins to feel a bit full of himself, decides to get out to Hollywood and get on the wagon of this ‘talkie star rush’ that was enveloping Hollywood at the time, feeling that with his looks, voice and the seamless praises of his talent, it would be a cinch to jump into the rising tide of this talkie fever.

Inevitably... in time... Hollywood would call not once.... but twice. Broadway, not to be outdone would get it's licks in as well.

After soon arriving in 1930 Los Angeles he immediately dived into local concerts and was well received in the burgeoning radio L.A. market.

Letter found from George Liebling to my father dated July 14th 1930 offering his praises after hearing him in private recital- George Liebling, world-renowned pianist, and youngest pupil of the great Lizst, and a devoted Yogoda member.

“.... I made a foolish decision and went to Hollywood to try and crack the movies...”
“.... I thought my radio reputation would open all doors to me!"

“How wrong I was!”
“.... Not only was I not tall enough, handsome enough or knew how to act- I was totally unprepared to embark on a professional/ acting/singing career....” “.... So I floundered around from agent to agent and learned that money, allot of money was necessary to buy their services....” “...Perhaps they knew that I was not a salable product...” “.... Perhaps I didn’t know my limitations....” “ I didn’t have any money, enough to buy anything but food and lodging...” “How stupid was I! But it was necessary to pay for acting lessons...”
“.... I started with Joesphine Dillon, ex-wife of Clark Gable whom she said taught him to act! My God what a fake she was! I stayed two weeks at fifty dollars per week for three lessons per-and left.... I thought how could such fakers endure…She died broke-penniless. No wonder...the only thing I learned from her was the Latin phrase Mea Culpa-My Sin, was this needed for all acting!? Perhaps it was, for her ‘teaching’!"
Wib, while appearing in London's South Pacific, after the show, years later, brought Gable home to an unsuspecting Susanna. Wib knowing that Susanna had met Gable on the MGM lot when she was first signed at twelve years old and that Susanna had always deeply admired Gable since their first meeting when he took her hand and "treated me like the Queen of England!" So Wib thought he'd surprise Susanna with a visit from an 'old friend'.
Excerpt from 'Phantom of the Heart':
One night Clark Gable, Wib and some of the cast went out for a few drinks after the show. Both feeling a little tipsy, they went back to Chesterfield Hill. Wib opened the door and shouted, “Honey, could you come hear a minute.” Wib hid behind Clarke in the doorway. As Susanna remembers; “I ran to the door and there was Clark leaning up against the door in a big grin, obviously feeling very good. My God, I hadn’t seen him since I was twelve years old and was embarrassed that I didn’t have any make-up on. I told him so". He replies, ‘Frankly Suzy, I don’t give a damn.’ “ We all laughed. He stayed into the early morning, we reminisced on when I met him and Jean Harlow on the MGM lot.” “He was so fond of her. And he spoke of his wife Carol, they were such pals, they loved each other dearly. Oh, the two great losses in his life, when Jean died and most especially his wife Carol Lombard, (whom he’d lost in a plane crash). A fine, fine man, what a gentleman.”

Disheartened and missing his “Ma and Pa” Wib returned to Philadelphia in 1931,
“I sang just about everywhere people would listen-churches, synagogues, clubs.”
Revisiting his beloved weekly trips to New York and the Metropolitan, he sang all the basso solo parts in the oratorios at the Riverside Baptist Church (left, Grant's Tomb and George Washington Bridge in the distance) every Sunday for two years...”I loved it!”

During this time he signed with Columbia Concert Management Agency and it’s subsidiary Cooperative-Community Concerts Bureau. They were known for sending out salesman en masse across the US and Canada -selling a roster of concert series to larger towns- usually a singer, violinist, pianist etc. These community concerts catered usually to the social leaders in each city to promote their awareness of bringing musical culture to their areas. The artists were required to perform only classical music- Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc. Fortunately for Wib his interests and training at Curtis bode him well. Program making became his joy, developing a keen sense for musical numbers and repertoire.

1933- Grand Opera debut- “Tristan”- with Fritz Reiner and the Philadelphia Symphony .

During the next several years Wib continued to hone and sculpt his abilities.
Appearing in Canada and every state in the union “except North Dakota” in concerts, operas, recitals, oratorios- “I enjoyed the Canadian audiences very much”.- Several hundred appearances with Community Concerts, continuing through 1939-

During this time he served two years in the Marine Reserve.

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