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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ends Her Life: Elsie Houston new home 

Comcast decided it wouldn't support user webpages anymore so deleted the original Ends Her Life: Elsie Houston.

It is now curated at this site: https://sites.google.com/site/endsherlifeelsiehouston/home

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Elsie Houston in Boston 

During August 1942, Elsie Houston sang at the Satire Room in the Hotel Fensgate (534 Beacon St). The Satire Room was a tiny 45 seat dinner and dancing club that had a reputation for being phenomenally expensive. Also on the bill were magician Harry Baker and singer Nora Sheridan [who had appeared with EH at Le Ruban Bleu in 1939 singing risque novelties]. Billboard Magazine (August 15, 1942) had the following to say:
Elsie Houston, singer of sophisticated songs, is the highlight of the show. She sings in many tongues, shifting from French to Spanish to Portuguese with ease. She is very individualistic and has a wide vocal range, plus perfect control. She was asked to encore, but begged off. [Neil Phillips accompanied on piano].
The August 29 issue of Billboard reports she has been "held over."

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Monday, March 19, 2012

More Elsie Houston stories (from Google News Archive) 

Somehow these were overlooked in previous research.

1) A long profile by Ira Wolfert that ran in the Milwaukee Journal, October 12, 1940, headlined "Singing Elsie Houston of Historic Family Tells of Voodoo Dangers." It is very much a personality profile, focusing on EH's experiences with precognition and mind reading, and her mounting frustration as a telephone keeps interrupting the interview.  Rather than excerpting it here, I'll send you directly to the article. 

2) A March 4, 1942 wire story, run in the (Regina, Saskatchewan) Leader-Post, that frames her Town Hall solo concert as a classic understudy-becomes-a-star story (she had replaced Grace Moore at the last moment). "The critics gave her rave notices. She is swamped with offers. And that's how a prima donna is born."

3) A concert note in the August 18, 1942 (Baltimore, MD) Afro American that briefly describes a Boston performance at the Satire Room of the Hotel Fensgate. Of particular note: Elsie Houston's description as "colored Brazilian soprano," a rare explicitly racial reference to EH.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Marston to issue comprehensive Elsie Houston release 

This will apparently include the French serestas recordings and Liberty Music Shop releases in addition to the Brazilian Songs set. Marston is a master at restoration so these ought to sound good too! Here's the preview link

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Elsie Houston in Hartford 

Elsie Houston performed three times in Hartford, CT. Here is an excerpt from a review in the Hartford Courant of her Jan 1939 performance. (It is credited to T.H.P--Theodore H. Parker).

I hope that a great many people are going to feel pretty annoyed with themselves this morning, for not attending the program by Elsie Houston last night. It will be recalled as one of the petit sensations of the season. Though hardly a hundred people were in the audience, they set off enough applause for a thousand...and you can see by simple arithmetic that the enthusiasm assayed at about 10...times normal per paid pair of hands. Miss Houston was completely run out of encores, and it is a good thing, or they would have kept her there until the next rainy season in Brazil.
To art song audiences, Miss Houston would never pass as a purist--she had a whole bagful of the chanteuse's tricks by which every rule is flaunted and what she did was nine times out of ten pure theater, but it was effective enough to keep people talking about South America long after the Lima Parley has ceased to be dinner conversation...The mannerisms which raised one eyebrow, and the voice, which raised the other, in such numbers as the Strawinsky and "The Cherry Tree," had you practically gurgling with delight in the folk songs.
Parker would write another review, of her 1941 appearance, with any even more ecstatic tone:
The luxuriant Elsie Houston came back to us again last evening, to take up where she had left off a year ago, to sing the slurring, smoky songs of her native country, and to warn that the voodoo 'uns will get you if you don't watch out. Might be fun too.
Along with Charley's aunt, Miss Houston is one of the best things that ever came out of Brazil. What she does, and the way she does it, I guarantee, could do more to promote extra-friendly relations between this country and Latin America, than a year of Pan-American conferences. The sight of her, tall dark and handsome, poured into a dress like a tropical botany lesson, and standing above lighted candelabra, needs no voodoo to spell an audience.
The recipe for Brazilian song, according to Miss Houston's performances, calls for something more than a staveful of Latin rhythms. It requires in addition, the whites of two eyes, seventeen varieties of sidelong glance, shoulder shrugs, scowls, a hitch of the hips, eyebrows with extra-special elevation, a capering glottis for Portuguese gutterals, a one-man percussion band and a voice like no other for weird vocal skiing...When you have gotten all this together, you'd better telephone for Miss Houston. She will lean against the piano, carefully inspect the Elizabeth Arden on her nails, open the world's most brilliant teeth, and let go....That voice will produce the most astounding array of effects from swoops to birdlike twittering from South American yearning to witch-keening, from something crooning half a mile away, to a rooster marshaling a backyard seraglio....
In addition, she is the most piquant lady who ever caused a wife to shoot a dampening glance at her husband....
With Miss Houston again was Pablo Miguel, who has his hands full with Miss Houston's imperious, sotto voice commands...
Miss Houston's audience was made up of devoted followers and their proselytes. It was distinctly "cherce," as the saying is, socially speaking, and it was heatedly enthusiastic...

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Marketing Elsie Houston 

In late 1940, Elsie Houston signed with Willmore & Powers, a management agency. I've included a page from her press kit. (Click on it for a better view). It includes a "suggested program" featuring her Classical and Folk-Lore repertoire as well as press notices drawn from France and Brazil. Other parts of the press kit include a head shot (the photo used in her obituary) and excerpts of reviews and profiles in New York and Chicago papers.

The kit uses language from an Olin Downes review for her tagline: "Elsie Houston: A remarkable diseuse...a master musician." (Note: the "voodoo" act is mentioned but not highlighted. This would change.)

[My thanks to the generous reader who found this for me.]

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Untranslateable: Elsie Houston 

The first extended scholarly English-language biography of Elsie Houston has been published, half a chapter in Micol Seigel's new book, Uneven Encounters: Making race and nation in Brazil and in the United States. Seigel's linguistic skills and academic research position has given her access to material I could never dream of finding, though like me, she has found huge holes in the EH time line and a number of "facts" that turn out to be strategic falsehoods.

Here's some new information:

First, additional insight into her relationship with Benjamin Péret:

Friends of Houston's remembered Péret as eccentric and always financially unstable. Houston's sister claimed that "the marriage got in the way of [Houston's] career" and that "Benjamin didn't like music. He got in the way of her studies." (p. 169)

Second, Seigel implies that Houston deliberately "ratcheted up" her social position in New York. My sense is that she may very well have invented her relationship to Sam Houston and her mother's Portuguese roots (distancing herself from any African ancestry).

Third, Seigel notes that Etta Moten Barnett used Houston's recordings to "demonstrate the proximity of black U.S. and Afro-Brazilian culture," noting a Chicago radio program from 1955.

The whole book, beyond the EH section, is worth your time, especially if you are interested in race and transnational history. I am extremely sympathetic to Seigel's overall position that strictly comparative studies (US vs Brazil, e.g.) are nonsensical.

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