Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Richard Hankinson

Remember that 1960s Nat King Cole song with lyrics about the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”? They sure got the lazy part wrong, at least as far as my life is concerned. Crazy? Yes, happily busily crazy. Wanting to be outside in the garden, rather than inside in front of my computer (no, I don’t have a laptop). Hence my inattention to blogging. Apologies. I'm back from vacation and back on track now.

Last week I was in Maine, and had the opportunity to visit Dick Hankinson, who was my father’s accompanist in the 1950s.

Dick Hankinson c. 1952

As a very recent Julliard graduate, Richard Hankinson, a charming and talented young man from South Carolina, was hired as my father’s newest accompanist in September 1952. He came so highly recommended that my father hired him without an audition. However, he insisted that Dick sign a five-year contract, which was unheard of in those days. Forty years later Dick candidly told me he would have left sooner if he could have, because he was on call 24 hours a day. Their first year together involved a grueling 250 days on the road. This was particularly difficult for the recently married Hankinson, although his new wife did whatever she could by way of making herself useful to the operation in order to accompany him on tour.

When I interviewed Dick for my book in 1991, he told me: “Musically, Mr. Melton was difficult to play for. He sang classical music in almost a pop style. One didn’t accompany him, rather, he sang on top of the accompaniment.” (Did this come from having sung with a dance band in his youth, I wonder?) “He insisted that all accompaniments be memorized. I objected to this, because it left no room for pianistic interpretation; I felt it made things sound mechanical.” But, of necessity, Dick ended up complying. It did look very impressive not to have any sheet music on stage.

Dick moved on to other pursuits in 1957, and retired to Maine in 1985.

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