Florence Foster Jenkins. She was a wealthy heiress, New York socialite, avid patron of the musical arts … and possessed the most excruciatingly unmusical singing voice ever heard on the stage of Carnegie Hall. I first heard that voice around 1960, coming from the grooves of a 78 rpm record owned by my violin teacher. By that time, less than twenty years after her death, her story was already laden with legend and myth.
The recordings were played for comedy value. The picture that emerged of the singer was that of a deluded coloratura wannabe, rich enough to buy her way into a recording studio and ultimately into Carnegie Hall. But it is perhaps precisely because she was so stupendously awful that interest in her has never waned. Eight of the nine songs that she recorded in the Melotone Studio, including the one that I heard at my teacher’s home, were released on vinyl in 1962 and later on CD. Several of those songs are now available on YouTube.