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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Real Robert Porter Sightings and Elsie Houston discoveries 

Robert Porter is not my real name. But occasionally I run across people whose name it really is. I take it as an omen. It happened today at the dentist. I looked over the counter when I was making an appointment, and there was a chart for "Robert Porter." In my town, at my dentist, getting his gums pricked in the room next to mine. So what does it mean?

Today it meant the rebirth of my Elsie Houston obsession. I had stumbled upon a Time Magazine reference during a routine, out-of-boredom, Yahoo search. (Gull City Press seems to blink on and off as far as Yahoo is concerned; forget Google.) So why not go straight to the library to check it out? Apparently in 1954,Victor released an LP Elsie Houston Sings Brazilian Songs. (Remember that LP technology was fairly new; the songs had been released originally on 78s.) Not only was it favorably reviewed in both Time and the Saturday Review, the reviewers seem to go out of their ways to conjure up the strangeness of her performances.

She could trumpet like a fishwife or trill like a bird....In nightclubs she liked to dim the lights to a pair of candles, pick up a finger drum, and let her voice go up in smoke for a savage voodoo number or wail some agonizing quarter tones in an ox driver's lament. Then she would startle her listeners by a playful ditty sung with a lilting girlish quality.

Saturday Review:
Elsie Houston entered this great drawing room like an African queen, like a priestess, like the reigning hetaera, in short, like an artist. She carried some small drums and was tuggin two huge candlesticks, because she was wanted to sing in the dark. I was drawn to her like a moth. I helped her get the waist-high candlesticks into place (nobody else was helping), lit the candles, and sat on the floor enslaved...What was she like? She seemed tall. Her features were rather Mayan: arced nose, proud eyes, black hair. Or so I remember. Her appearance changed from time to time.

A couple of other random notes:
Elsie Houston is credited with discovering the great Broadway arranger, Hershy Kay.
She once told the writer, Iles Brody, that Brazilians get turkeys drunk before killing them.

Hello Mr. Robert. I am Brazilian and work with a 78 wax record collector rpm. I knew Elsie and I was magic. I am mounting a musical group that will have repertoire inspired by the Elsie. Congratulations for its Blog.
I am very glad to hear that she is not forgotten. I wish you good luck. (by the way, does anyone know what happened to Sovaco de Cobra?)
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