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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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