Ethel Merman (1909-1984)

On Broadway, there was one performer who was truly inimitable. From that historic moment in 1930 when she delivered the Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm” to a stunned audience, Ethel Merman was and remained Broadway’s greatest (and most bankable) star,  the definitive, brassy Voice of the Great White Way, the Classic Belter.

Merman’s mystique lay in the extraordinary power of a voice delivered by a sassy, humorous, no-nonsense dame. She could be touching and feminine, she could be a steamroller. Whatever it was, it was invincibly Merman, and what you saw was what you got.

And what Broadway got was at least a dozen hit shows, none of which ran less than six months thanks to her special brand of exhilarating entertainment.

Cole Porter dubbed her “La Merman” and created no fewer than five shows for his brassbound diva: ANYTHING GOES, RED HOT & BLUE, DUBARRY WAS A LADY, PANAMA HATTIE, SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS out of which came such Merman standards as “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You’re The Top,” “Anything Goes,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Down In The Depths,” “Ridin’ High,” “Friendship.”

For Irving Berlin: ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (“Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “I Got Lost In His Arms,” “I Got The Sun In The Morning,” “Anything You Can Do,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business”) and CALL ME MADAM (“The Hostess With The Mostess,” “Marrying For Love,” “You’re Just In Love”).

Her finest achievement came at the peak of her performing powers in 1959 when she gave the world Mama Rose in GYPSY by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim: “Some People,” “Small World,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Together,” and “Rose’s Turn.” Jerry Herman’s classic HELLO DOLLY was written with her in mind, and though she was not the first Dolly, she made it her final role on Broadway in the late 1960s.

Merman’s personal life was marred by four unsuccessful marriages and the death of her daughter; however hers was perhaps the most spectacular Broadway career on record. For more than a half century, this earthy stenographer from Queens was what Broadway wanted more than any other performer: an American classic, an irreplaceable from a golden age now sorely missed.

If you would like to engage Fred Miller for one of his Lectures-in-Song, please contact him directly at any time. For a full listing of all Lectures, click here.

Fred Miller’s Lectures-In-Song comprise a series of solo programs, each an historical, anecdotal and musical profile of some great personality or important aspect of American Popular Song. These Lectures are delivered by singer/pianist/narrator Miller at the piano, and each reflects his lifetime passion and appreciation for great music. He studied classical piano in his hometown of Albuquerque from ages 7-15 but early on gave up any notion of music as a profession. At that time, Fred assumed a musical career was either one devoted to the rigid discipline of classical music or being a freewheeling rock star, and he accurately decided he had no aptitude for either. However, at age 22, upon hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing Cole Porter, he found his calling and life’s mission.

Through the Seventies and Eighties, Miller studied and absorbed in minute detail the life and times and songs of nearly all the great American composers and lyricists who thrived during Broadway & Hollywood’s Golden Age between the two World Wars. In 1987, he founded Silver Dollar Productions in order to produce operettas, dramas, musicals and small cabarets. Silver Dollar Productions required ensemble casts, props, costumes and, most significantly, the challenges of publicity and selling tickets, and for a dozen busy years, the company presented an unbroken string of varied and highly lauded performances.

In 1999, Miller was simultaneously underwritten by both his local Hunterdon County Library and the Art Alliance of Philadelphia to present a series of six solo Lectures-In-Song, each devoted to one of the premiere Broadway/Hollywood songwriters: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.

In presenting history, biography and psychology while sitting at a piano singing the superlative songs of his heroes, Miller has found a single performing medium that utilizes most of his intellectual and musical passions.The list of Lectures-In-Song that began with six in 1999 is now more than seventy(and growing!), a joyful tribute to the boundlessly rich field of American Popular Song.