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Saturday, December 23, 2006

A feminilidade do canto notes (I) 

A slow crawl through the 2003 booklet on Elsie Houston (I won't dignify what I'm doing with the word "translation," dependent on English/Spanish cognates and babel fish as it is) reveals a great deal previously unknown here and fills in some important holes. I can now update the chronology, for example, though there are still gaps in what anyone knows about her life in Europe in the 1930s.

Some initial notes:

Cause of suicide: The book speculates (agreeing with NY Herald Tribune account) that her suicide was rooted in financial problems and declining career prospects related to the war, as well as a recent split from her Belgian baron patron. But it also suggests that life in New York was hard for a Brazilian, particularly one of mixed blood, so a bit of culture shock can be added to the mix of factors.

She was already a nightclub singer in Paris in the late 1920s. She met Péret through her sister and brother-in-law (who were acquainted, no doubt, because of a shared interest in Trotsky). When she returned to Brazil between 1929 and 1931, she was a concert singer (not the the pop star I'd thought). In fact, her repertoire was pretty much fixed over the last fifteen years of her life, with some exceptions. In Brazil, she included African-american folksongs in her program; In America, the macumba songs took center stage.

Péret and Houston alienated a lot of old friends in Brazil. Péret was rude, and Houston "a liberated woman." Apparently the couple did something so sacriligeus in front of Manuel Bandeira that he broke off his friendship (he and Houston later reconciled).

More to come...


I've been trying to track down the book and CD ELSIE HOUSTON : A FEMINILIDADE DO CANTO. Can you direct me as to how you were able to obtain a copy and whether there might be another available? I've contacted the museum in Brazil that published it but have not received a reply. Ditto for author and publisher.

One Brazilian used book dealer was sold out.

I'm particularly interested in her earlier recordings. I have her american recordings and find her such a tremendous singer.

Thanks in advance for any assistance.

wayne holmen
I tried similar routes to no success. There are copies floating throughout the US library system; I got mine through interlibrary loan (and, sigh, had to return it...)
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