David Bruce: The Funniest People in Music, Volume 2 — Food, Free Speech

Food

• When Emma Calvé was studying singing as a young student in Paris, she was very thin — so thin that she shocked the burly butcher whose market was next door. The butcher believed that she needed to eat more meat to gain weight, but he realized that young Emma and her mother had little money. Because he recognized Emma’s great talent as a singer, he told her mother, “To prove to you how much confidence I have in your daughter’s future, I’ll open an account for you at this shop. You can pay me when she makes her début.” Emma imagined that later, after she had become a famous singer, the butcher listened to her in the audience and told the people sitting near him, “Do you see that wonderful singer? It is entirely due to me that she is in such fine form!”

• Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson knew how to ask for the things she and the people around her needed. She once was scheduled to perform a concert in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a sponsor there had promised to feed her and her driver and her accompanist before the concert. All of them were hungry when they arrived for the meal, and Mahalia was astonished to see a table set with such things as punch, tuna salad, and cheese dip. Mahalia told her hostess, “Wait a minute, lady, I got to sing tonight. This is air — give me some food!” Her hostess fixed a real meal with real food for Mahalia and the people traveling with her — they all ate well and Mahalia sang well that night.

• When opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink was a little girl, her pregnant mother developed a craving for Swiss cheese but did not have the money to pay for it. Little Ernestine went to the grocery shop owner and worked out a deal with her. If she gave Ernestine the Swiss cheese, Ernestine would sing and dance the Czardas for her. The deal was accepted, and the grocery shop owner was so pleased with the Czardas that she gave Ernestine an apple as a tip.

• Mid-1950s Metropolitan Opera conductor Fausto Cleva made gnocchi, a particular kind of Italian homemade noodles. At one of his dinners, Mr. Cleva was delighted to hear fellow conductor Arturo Toscanini praise his gnocchi: “Bravo, Cleva!” Mr. Cleva joked, “Don’t say that, Maestro, or I will tell people that you praised me by saying ‘Bravo.’” Mr. Toscanini joked back, “Only for the noodles, Cleva.”

Free Speech

• Many people opposed the United States’ invasion of Iraq, while many people supported the invasion. On March 10, 2003, the lead singer of the popular country-music group Dixie Chicks (who originated in Texas), Natalie Maines, told a crowd at a London concert, “I’m ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” In the United States, many fans and radio stations disagreed. Many radio stations stopped playing their songs, and some of their albums were even burned in a manner similar to book burnings. However, many people widely and enthusiastically supported the Dixie Chicks, who went on tour in the United States, selling out every venue. Ms. Maines explained that the Dixie Chicks supported free speech, and she even encouraged anyone who wanted to, to boo them. At a concert, she told the audience, “We believe in freedom of speech. So let’s stop right now for 15 seconds of booing.” The audience didn’t boo; it cheered. The Dixie Chicks are brave in their support of free speech. At a concert in Dallas, Texas, they received a death threat. They went on stage and performed anyway.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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