Sunday Morning Opera: Songs for My Father

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My father, Albert P. Reidhead, would be ninety-three today.  We lost him on October 17, 2014.  He loved music, especially songs, having come of age during the Big Band Era.  I think Harry James was probably his favorite band, but I think that was also about him having married Betty Grable. He liked the usual crooners, but I think Bing Crosby was his favorite.  He certainly is my favorite from that era.  The man had a baritone voice that was like velvet. Frank Sinatra was amazing, but Bing Crosby had the best voice, I think.

My father’s favorite piece of classical music was Rhapsody in Blue. Like so many kids of my era, I grew up watching Leonard Bernstein.

Then, last Friday, my favorite American composer, Cole Porter, would have been 126.  Like George and Ira Gershwin,  Hoagy Carmichael, and Duke Ellington, Cole Porter was uniquely American, transforming the American musical scene into something world-class, quite cosmopolitan. Yet, their American roots were always evident. I really like Hoagy Carmichael when he performed his own work.

My father loved their music.  My first real introduction to American song was through my father and my grandmother, Froehlich.  In the era when travel did not include DVDs, satellite radio, CDs, cassette tapes, 8-track, or even FM radio, during the day, when on a long road trip, you were at the mercy of little radio stations.  At night you could pick up the power-house stations, but not during the day. I was a baby when my grandparents purchased land in the middle of nowhere in western North Carolina.

We would make the miserable trek from West Palm Beach, to the mountains, usually in two days.  The grandparents, also purchased land in South Carolina, where they built a little house I eventually occupied.  It was a twelve hour drive just to Fair Play.  Up until the seventies, when we had 8-track, once we left Florida, until we were near enough to pick up WSB in Atlanta, there was nothing but nasal twang country-gospel backwoods horror. My father and grandmother would sing for hundreds of miles.  Had I been older, I would have thought it was embarrassing. I was just a little kid, and did not know any better.

Then, the parents traded for a car with a cassette player and FM.  The era of singing in the car was over, for good.  I began reading paperback Regency novels.  My grandmother couldn’t get enough of them.  She would sit on the back seat, read, and root around in a can of peanuts for hours.  We would rarely hear a peep out of her.  One year for Christmas, I made the mistake of giving my father the entire Louis Lamour collection, in paperback.  He gave the car keys to me and sat on the back seat, reading – for hours.  We were fortunate with his Alzheimer’s.  He never lost his ability to read.  He might not remember some things, but he always remembered which books he had read.

The name that has become synonymous for American song is Thomas Hampson, for obvious reasons, including the fact that he has become the champion of American song.  His work has helped the world, and more importantly we Americans, realize what a treasure of music this nation has produced.

FYI: If anyone is thinking of romancing the bitch – you do it with Cole Porter! Start with this one, and produce a baritone.

Of course, we are dealing with my father. He had enlisted to be a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corp. After watching Action on the North Atlantic, with Bogey, he began the process of transferring to the Merchant Marines. He was from Minneapolis. The most famous stars, from Minneapolis, during World War II were three sisters. They were among his favorites.

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