Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Belated Veteran's Day post

During the first year the United States was in World War II, in addition to his normal radio and recital schedule, my father did 50 concerts for servicemen or war-wounded in the U.S. and Canada. Often he would arrange to sing at a hospital or military camp in the afternoon in whatever city he was concertizing, rest for a few hours, and then do his regular performance at night. He also participated in War Bond rallies in both countries. The border was no impediment to his loyalty, “It all goes into the same pot,” he said.

Clearly, the Meltons’ greatest contribution to the war effort was in terms of fund raising, whether it was my mother serving on volunteer relief committees, or my father lending his talents to raise money for War Bonds.

Although all of his efforts to entertain the troops were in North America, my father's radio broadcasts were heard overseas through Armed Forces Radio. Fifty years later, one soldier, Colin Dyer, wrote me:

“In April 1945 I was in the 15th General Hospital in Liege, Belgium, recuperating from a wound. Often the Armed Forces Radio would broadcast a half hour of James Melton recordings. All of the orderlies, janitors, and others comprising the staff of menial workers were German POWs. We noticed that one of them found it appropriate to mop the floor at the door to our ward during these half-hour James Melton programs. In due course, we learned through his halting English that he had been a music student at the University of Leipzig before the war, and that he was much taken by Melton’s voice. At least for the 30 days I spent in that hospital, the doorway to our ward was the cleanest spot in Belgium.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Political Memorabilia

A propos of the recent election, I decided to check the "politics" folder in my JM archives. Look what I found.

I'm sure it pained my staunchly Republican father mightily to sing for FDR, in spite of the prestige involved in singing for an inauguration celebration. (No doubt he was much happier 12 years later singing for Eisenhower's inaugural!)

I've only scanned two pages from the multi-page program, which included toasts to the president and vice president, an address by the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, "God Bless America" played by the U.S. Navy Band under guest conductor Irving Berlin. I have not been able to track down what selections my father sang at the event.

The menu, in case you are interested, included Diamond Back Terrapin Soup with Sherry, Pompano Saute, Filet Mignon on Smithfield Ham, Coupe Tortoni with Brandied Figs and Gateau Mille Feuille.

Does anyone have a clue who signed the program's cover in the lower right-hand corner?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Look what I found on e-bay!

It never ceases to amaze me what one finds on e-bay! I check periodically for Melton memorabilia, though I think I’ve gotten most of the “good stuff” by now. However, a few weeks ago, much to my surprise, look what I found (and bought, of course). A photo of my parents from 1928, taken at a costume ball given by the Seiberlings of Akron, Ohio—at which my parents announced their engagement. (It was at the Seiberling’s that my parents had met the year before.) Nearly 300 guests were invited to this bal masque, and every conceivable kind of costume was in evidence, Colonial dames, princesses, gypsies and sheiks. Mr. and Mrs. Seiberling welcomed their guests dressed in 16th century Venetian attire. The announcement of my parent’s engagement at this event gave, as one newspaper put it, “the final bit of interest to a party that for color and social importance has not been equaled this year.”

Here is how my mother remembered that evening in her unpublished memoir:

Mrs. Seiberling had asked Jimmie to sing the tenor aria from Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, “Ah, léve-toi soleil.” She sent him off to rehearse, and led me up a small staircase to a balcony over the music room, and arranged “Juliet”, in her blue lamé gown, pearl cap and long scarf, facing south. “Cheek in hand, dear, and as Jim sings, toss your veil gracefully over the balcony so he can kiss it when he's through singing.”

I crouched like a caged mouse, glued to the little stool on the balcony. The lights came on, the orchestra played, and Jimmie walked out on the stage, lifted his face, and began to sing, facing north, to my back. I tried to turn, but was wedged in by the smilax and holly decorating the tiny balcony. Craning my neck in the right direction and I gazed feebly down at him, tossing my scarf ardently toward his outstretched hand. It caught on the greenery. I tugged. Smilax fell, scarf didn’t.

Jimmie was in a bad mood when we met later. “I couldn't sing a note with my neck stretched out like a turkey gobbler on the block. And you making smoke signals with that scarf didn’t help my concentration any!” I was crushed, but Mrs. Seiberling’s glow reassured me somewhat, until friends, polite but honest, told me I looked like a frightened rabbit peeking through the bushes.

The orchestra started playing and I smiled hopefully at Jimmie. He said he couldn't —or wouldn't?— dance in his costume, and stood their clutching his cape around his doublet and hose all evening. My father, a jaunty Capulet, was delighted to show off his knees, and whirled me around the dance floor happily. I will never forget how doggedly Jimmie clasped that cape around himself for the rest of the night. This was my first lesson in an artist’s temperament: super-sensitiveness and with a need for perfection.