Tenor  William  Brown

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie




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William Brown (March 29, 1938, Jackson, Mississippi – October 20, 2004, Jacksonville, Florida) was an American operatic tenor.

Brown earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Jackson State University in 1960 and a Masters of Music degree from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in 1962. He later earned a doctorate of music from the Peabody Institute in 1971. From 1962 to 1966, he was a soloist with the United States Navy Band and Choir, with whom he performed for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In 1967, he made his professional opera debut as Spalanzani in The Tales of Hoffmann with the Baltimore Opera Company. That same year, replacing an ailing Plácido Domingo, he made his New York City debut as Kalaf in Ferruccio Busoni's Turandot with The Little Orchestra Society at Avery Fisher Hall. He also starred as the Angel in the world premiere of John La Montaine's pageant opera The Sheparde's Playe, which was recorded for television and broadcast nationally in the United States on ABC. In 1968, he created the role of Feste in the world premiere of David Amram's Twelfth Night at the Lake George Opera, and he made his debut at the New York City Opera as Lieutenant Jean l'Aiglon in the world premiere of Hugo Weisgall's Nine Rivers from Jordan.

In 1970, Brown sang the role of Don Ottavio in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Connecticut Opera. In 1971, he portrayed the role of Lucano in Claudio Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea with the Opera Orchestra of New York under conductor Eve Queler. He returned to the Baltimore Opera in 1972 to perform the role of Belmonte in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In 1977, he sang the role of Nate in the New York premiere of William Grant Still's Highway 1 U.S.A. for the inaugural production of Opera Ebony. That same year, he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic, singing in a concert of works written entirely by African-American composers. In 1981, he performed the role of Thompson St. Chavez in Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts at Carnegie Hall, a role which he recorded with Nonesuch Records in 1982. In 1985, he starred in the world premiere of Dorothy Rudd Moore's opera, Frederick Douglass, at Aaron Davis Hall. In 1991, he was the recipient of the North Carolina Award.

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From 1972 until his death 32 years later, Brown was a professor of voice at the University of North Florida. He had previously taught at Florida Presbyterian College from 1970 to 1972. Brown died in 2004 at the age of 66 in Jacksonville, Florida.

==  Names which are links in this box, and below, refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  





Many of the interviews that I did over the years were set up either through the publicity department of the company or venue where the artists were performing, or through the musician
s personal agent, or that of the recording company.  With composers, I would often just contact them directly.  This one, which you are about to read, was a very special case, and the letter below explains it quite clearly.


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Upon reading the flyer which he enclosed (shown below), I also sought to meet with soprano, Alpha Floyd.  The circumstances worked out well for all of us, and, as seen in my own notes on the flyer, on September 21, 1990, two separate interviews were done, one after the other at 9 PM and 10 PM in their hotel rooms.  Both of my guests were most gracious, and the ideas flowed freely in each case.


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Being part of a tour, the taxing schedule meant that rest-time was precious, and as we were setting up to record our conversation, that was the topic of our chit-chat . . . . .

  
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Bruce Duffie:   We were talking just a moment ago about the lack of sleep.  Do you make sure that you get enough rest, and exercise, and food to keep up with the big international career?

William Brown:   I have to.  One of the things that has kept me alive and well is the fact that I have to be so disciplined with my health.  My instrument is in my body.

BD:   Do you like carrying that instrument around with you all the time, or are there times when you would rather take it out and let the repair man work on it?
 [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Judith Blegen, and Robert Shaw.]

Brown:   [Laughs]  If I could do that, very definitely, especially when you’re feeling under the weather, and you have to go on.  That’s not the most engaging situation to be in, but, as they say in the old Broadway parlance, the show must go on!

BD:   Do you feel you always must go on, or are there times you must simply cancel and say you cannot appear?

Brown:   I try.  [Knocks on the wooden table]  I’m not that sure what good that (tapping on wood) does, but I’ve never canceled.

BD:   Never at all?

Brown:   Never.

BD:   When you’re making up your schedule, do you try to build in enough time to get away and reset and study?

Brown:   Not really.  [Laughs]  I’ve been a physical fitness buff ever since I can remember.  I was running, or really jogging, back in 1966.  That’s when I started.  When I was doing it, it was absolutely ridiculous.  No one was doing it, or least I didn’t see anyone.  But, as a result of it, I haven’t had a cold nor a headache for twenty-eight years.

BD:   So then you really are part athlete?

Brown:   Yes, I would think so.  My doctor thinks that I have this good pulse.  I’m in good shape, and I feel good in spite of all this travel.

BD:   Do you like the life of a wandering musician?

Brown:   I love the life of a wandering musician, because of the fact that, by and large, you only come in contact with the best people.  You go, and they treat you as a guest.  By the time you’ve worn your welcome out, you’ve gone to some other place.  It’s just gorgeous.  I just feel like I owe the world something.

BD:   You sing both opera and concert.  How do you divide your career between those two?

Brown:   The management does that.  Last year, I was up in Milwaukee for about a month.  I was chomping at the bit because the month’s rehearsals tied me up with stage directors, and this and that.  I did go out to the West Coast for five days for the Berlioz Requiem and came right back.  But, I like the variety in my career.  I love doing contemporary music.  Just recently, for example, I was in New York with the Black Music Repertory Ensemble, and had a great success.  I did two pieces that were written for me
Through this Vale of Tears by David Baker, and Runagate, Runagate by Wendell Logan.  It was an astounding thing for New York, and they just went bananas.  I did it in Atlanta also, but prior to that, I did some chamber works in Oregon.  Then I went to Mexico to open their season with the Berlioz Requiem.  So, I’m doing a variety of stuff, and that keeps me fresh, and keeps me without dullness in my life.


Through This Vale of Tears: In Memoriam Martin Luther King, Jr. is a song cycle for high voice, two violins, viola, cello, and piano.  The music is by David N. Baker, and the text is from various poets and sources.  Commissioned and recorded twice by tenor William Brown, the work is a kind of social commentary on the death of Dr. King.  As described by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Mr. Baker's piece set a variety of texts in a cornucopia of styles, including scat, spiritual, and chorale.  Miraculously, this diversity cohered, producing a multi-dimensional work filled with grief, humor and hope.”  

[Brown's recording of this Baker work is on a CD with a piece by Olly Wilson, which is shown in a box below when we discuss the Wilson item.]


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In 1990 “Runagate, Runagate,” sung by the tenor William Brown, was featured in a program by the Black Music Repertory Ensemble, a Chicago group, at Alice Tully Hall in New York.  The work is a setting of Robert E. Hayden's poem about a fugitive slave.  Reviewing the performance in The New York Times, Allan Kozinn wrote, “Mr. Logan’s music — a volatile mixture of angularity, harmonic haziness and expressive dissonance tempered with openly tonal sections — adds a palpable dramatic dimension to the narrative.”



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BD:   From this vast array of works, how do you decide you will learn this, you will sing that, and you will turn something else down?

Brown:   When I started out, I was a jazz trumpet player.  As a matter of fact, I played at the Brass Rail (Cocktail Lounge) here in Chicago.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Were you another Miles Davis?


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Brown:   [Laughs]  No, not exactly!  I was pretty good, though.  I was making a fairly decent living at it, which I guess is one of the barometers of one’s success.  But I didn’t know a lot in my present field, in terms of repertoire, etc., so when I got into this business, I was gregarious in terms of my appetite.  I would spend hours and hours and hours listening, and hours and hours of collecting new works, so my repertoire is extraordinarily vast.  One of the reasons I work so much is that conductors know I’m going to come prepared, and I can change at the drop of a hat if they want to have a different interpretation.  I can do that like a chameleon.  I have this wide repertoire because I learned things before I even had a chance to do them.  When I first started out, you have a Catch-22 situation as a young performer.  You go and you audition, and they will ask if you have you done it.  If you tell them no, but I know it, you can forget it.  They won’t take you.

BD:   You can’t do it till you know it, and you don’t know it until you’ve done it?

Brown:   That’s right.  Nobody’s going to hire you, so I picked up on that.  I was honest in the first week, and they said,
“Thank you very much.  We like you, but we want somebody who’s been under the gun, which I could understand.  So then I start telling everybody, “Yes, I’ve done it,and I would fake a place where I’d done it.  My New York City Opera debut was in 1966, and I went to audition for the Busoni Turandot.  I heard through the grapevine they were looking for an understudy for the tenor they had hired.  I had no idea who the tenor was, so I went and auditioned, and they asked me if I had done the work.  I was a graduate of Indiana University, so I told them yes, I’d done it.  Because it hadn’t been done professionally in this country, they asked where, and I said I did it at Indiana University.  They didn’t even check!  They figured Indiana does all these odd things, so quite naturally, they thought probably he’s right.  So, they hired me.  I’d not seen the score, and I didn’t know what it sounded like or anything.


Turandot (BV 273) is a 1917 opera with spoken dialogue and in two acts by Ferruccio Busoni. The composer prepared his own libretto, in German, based on the play by Count Carlo Gozzi. The music for Busoni's opera is based on the incidental music, and the associated Turandot Suite (BV 248), which Busoni had written in 1905 for a production of Gozzi's play. The opera is often performed as part of a double bill with Busoni's earlier one-act opera Arlecchino.

Busoni greatly simplified Gozzi's 5-act play into an opera of two acts of two scenes each. However, the basic plot is the same as the much more famous Puccini opera of the same name. Turandot, daughter of the Emperor, challenges all suitors for her hand with three riddles. She will marry the one who answers correctly, but those who fail are executed. Kalaf, an exiled prince in disguise, takes up the challenge.


BD:   Oh, my!

Brown:   I later learned the tenor they had hired was Plácido Domingo!  Domingo was in Mexico, and when he looked in his itinerary, he had found that he was going to be doing this Busoni Turandot, and he’d never sung in German before.  He canceled, so I had all of eight days.  Friedelind Wagner was there
she was Wagner’s grand-daughterand Hanne-Lore Kuhse, who was this wonderful East German soprano, and there was yours truly, the unknown William Brown, a young tenor.  I had had a great success at Lake George, doing Romeo and Juliet, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and things like that, so I was a little bit hot, an up-and-coming thing.  But anyway, because of my musicianship, and because of my ability to read and retain, I was a success, and that was to make my career.

brown BD:   So, you pulled it off?

Brown:   Yes, I pulled it off.  I learned a lot of music, and I learned it just simply to learn it.  So, now in the twilight of my years, I’m getting a chance to do all of these things that I’ve learned.

BD:   Are you a natural musician, so the study comes easy for you?

Brown:   Yes, it comes easy, but you have to understand I’ve been in music all my life.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve worked at it so hard.  I work very hard, even today.  There’s no such thing as leisure time, as we know it, for me.  I’m always listening, and learning, and there’s always the new stuff.

BD:   [Returning to the previous question]  When someone comes to you with a score and says would you like to sing this, and it’s something you haven’t done, how do you decide if you’ll say yes or no?

Brown:   I have never turned down anything.  Here’s a classic example... there’s a piece that was written for me back in the
70s by Olly Wilson.  He was out in California, and I’d sung in Berkeley in 1974.  He liked what he heard, and came to me and said he wanted to do a piece for me.  Wilson was an electronic composer, so I said okay, and just let it go, because in the height of those kinds of moments, people say a lot of things.  About three or four months later, he called me.  I was in San Diego and he asked if I could come up.  So, I flew to San Francisco, and went down into his little studio, and heard the piece.  I didn’t really hear it, but what he did was demonstrate some of the things, and let me see the score.

BD:   It was for tenor and tape?

Brown:   Tenor and tape, right, and it looked horrible!  It was just strange, so I proceeded to start doing my Primo Uomo thing, and said this must be changed, and this must be changed, and blah, blah, blah.  He said he heard me singing this; that this was what he heard in his head.  I kept on a bit, and he said he thought I could do it, but if I couldn’t, somebody would sing it.  Of course, my ego was shattered, so I went and did it!  Up until that time I had not been challenged by contemporary music.  The music that I was doing was more or less post-Romantic stuff, and my teachers told me all the time say not to do that new stuff.  It would wreck my voice.  [Both laugh]  Teachers can be terrible, and I’m happy to say that contemporary music has been a tremendous asset to my career.  I
m certain I wouldn’t have gotten the kind of reviews and notices that I’ve gotten for contemporary music for doing just The Magic Flute.

BD:   In The Magic Flute you’re just another Tamino, but to do the first performance of something by Olly Wilson, that’s special.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with T.J. Anderson, and Marcus Thompson.  This CD also has the Baker item which is mentioned above.]

Brown:   That’s true.  In New York, we had these wonderful people, but they noticed what I was doing in a very, very special way, and a very serious and very moving way.  I have had jaded critics say that it’s something, and when I did my Carnegie Hall recital, I refused to do traditional stuff.

BD:   [Surprised]  None at all???  Not even for half the recital?

Brown:   The traditional stuff I did was unheard of.  For example, I did a Weber Song, and instead of doing French, I did Glinka songs, and things like that.  [Photo and review are in the box below.]

BD:   So big names, but unknown items from their repertoire?

Brown:   Yes, right.  You wouldn’t expect them to do songs.  Whoever heard of Glinka songs?  Rachmaninoff, yes, but Glinka, no.

BD:   Did you sing them in Russian?

Brown:   Oh, yes!  Furthermore, I did them with guitar accompaniment.  So, the program itself was unusual.  The critics came and heard things that they didn’t know.  So, I was not being judged from a set of variants, or a set or traditions.  They don’t have a perspective.  I was the perspective, and they had to deal with me.

BD:   Do you feel like you’re crusading for more varied repertoire?

Brown:   Oh, yes, no doubt about that.  I don’t believe that the public is as conservative as most of these institutions would like us to believe.  Do we need another Beethoven Ninth?  I’m not putting Beethoven down.  Beethoven is fabulous, but we don’t need him every season.  Does the opera house need Verdi all the time?  There are hundreds and thousands of operas, and it’s just a matter of trying to put the same kind of energy into the new stuff.  You may find a golden egg.  I’ve been doing contemporary music for ‘mucho’ years, and now I have three masterpieces which I will record.  This new piece by Wendell Logan, if given the right attention, should win the Pulitzer this year.  It’s just stunning.  It’s just that impressive.  It’s unbelievable.

BD:   You will be recording that work?  [The CD is shown in a box above on this webpage.]

Brown:   Yes, and that is going to open up another opportunity for tenors.  People are going to do this work.  For my Carnegie Hall recital, I did a piece by the South African composer Priaulx Rainier.  She lived to be about ninety years old, and wrote an unaccompanied piece for Peter Pears called Cycle for Declamation.  The words were taken from John Donne’s meditations, and she really hammered on the ‘no man is an island
idea.  The piece is unaccompanied, and it’s in three parts.  That’s what opened my Carnegie Hall recital.  I went over to work on it with Peter Pears because he commissioned it in 1956, and Peter and I became very close.  He subsequently invited me back to Aldeburgh on several occasions.  But I had my eye on making my career after guys in this country like David Lloyd and John McCollum.  Those guys were very influential for me, and my guru was Roland Hayes.  The contemporary guy who was also influential for me was George Shirley.  He also did a lot of traditional music, but all of these singers were very cerebral.

BD:   Even though you’re bringing so much brain power to this, you don’t eliminate the heart, do you?

Brown:   Oh, no, by no means!  Everything starts here first [points to his head], even your emotions.  You see, the whole idea has to be activated from the brain.  It is there that whatever it is you’re going to bring is going to start from there.  Quite naturally, it’s going to mean something to me, because when I go on the stage, I’m not trying to impress you.  No, if I’m trying to impress you, then you become my arbiter, and I’m at your largesse.  I have to wait for your reaction to determine whether or not I’m successful.

BD:   If you’re not trying to impress me, why are you on the stage?

Brown:   To express.  There I’m in complete control, and therefore, I come from a different set of values when it comes down to this.  I’m not sure that I’m alone in this, but I’ve come to my own way of dealing with performing.  I’m not there to show you how great I am.  I don’t deal with those power-trips.  What I’m dealing with is to make you think about it for a little bit longer than just that night.

BD:   You want me to take something home with me after the concert?


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The tenor William Brown made his New York recital debut Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, avoiding repertory commonplaces in a program that offered such esoterica as five songs by Carl Maria von Weber for voice and guitar, two Zulu songs accompanied by percussion, two ''catch songs,'' David Baker's piquant ''The Black Experience'' and Priaulx Ranier's haunting ''Cycle for Declamation.'' The performances did not always succeed on a technical level - Mr. Brown's range was a bit limited for some of the music, and his control in softer dynamics was shaky - but there were some fine moments when the drama of a setting brought the soloist to an expressive boil.

Mr. Brown's account of his own a cappella arrangement of the spiritual ''Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child'' was a particularly memorable example. He also responded to the fiendish demands of ''Nunc, lento sonitu dicunt,'' the final setting in Miss Rainier's a cappella cycle, with a vivid performance that was further distinguished by almost uncannily clear diction. The Weber songs, accompanied by the guitarist Peter Segal, were intimate works that emerged slightly overcooked in the tenor's accounts; three songs by Rimsky-Korsakov were more effective, though Mr. Brown's Russian was not much better than his German. In airs from two of Handel's oratorios, he sang expressively and with a good grasp of style.

The pianist Wayne Sanders accompanied sympathetically, and did yeoman service as a percussionist in the Zulu songs.   [Photo at right from another source]




brown Brown:   Yes, and if I communicate with you, if I bare my soul, if I’m totally honest and have done my work, I become the conduit of that wonderful spirit that was given to the composers.  Then I relate that all out there and form a spirituality.  Now that means sometimes I have to make some ugly sounds, but I’m not afraid to take the voice to places that would be totally unacceptable in certain quarters.  I’m bound to find my spot, to which I’m slowly getting, and I am about to define my uniqueness.  Perhaps my day will come where I can have the forum to put forth this kind of approach.  One needs to have the forum in order to be effective.  People in the business know who I am, but I am still finding that public, where I will have an opportunity to say things, like we’re doing now.  This kind of sharing may have some effect on some youngsters, and that’s one of the reasons why I go into it hot and heavy.

BD:   Are you subconsciously perhaps trying to be a role model for the next generation of young tenors, or even just young singers?

Brown:   Yes.  I know that I don’t have what you might call ‘the great voice’, with an overwhelming sound like Jon Vickers.  I’m not even really concerned with that.  The fact is that I’ve had to use my mind.  I’m glad with the voice that I have, but you hear me first, and if you stay there you’ve got to be touched.  But when I do an audition, I may not knock you out of your seat.

BD:   You are a success, so obviously the voice has to be at least somewhat beautiful.

Brown:   Yes, that’s true, but the thing I’m talking about is the need and desire to have that large forum.  To do that, you also need to do your P.R., which I am somewhat unwilling to do.  But, if I am going to leave a legacy, I would say that there is much more to life than the steady diet of what the media, or what these institutions say there is.

BD:   Of course, part of your legacy is your recordings.  Do you sing differently in the recording studio than you do in the concert hall?

Brown:   No.

BD:   It is just the same???

Brown:   Just the same!  I approach it all the same, I really do.  There is nothing that I isolate, technically speaking.  Your ability to express comes from the resource of technicality, but the technicality is the means to an end.  I work diligently at that in order that it will not be a concern of mine when I perform.  I’m not just thinking is this up!  I’m totally into what I’m saying, and that’s a great feeling.

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BD:   Let’s talk a little bit about a couple of the recordings.  The one that I remember first is the piece by Louis Gruenberg.  Tell me a little bit about that.

Brown:   Gunther Schuller, who conducted it, called about a year in advance, and I accepted.  I was in British Columbia, performing with Paul Freeman, who has the Chicago Sinfonietta.  I had been out there for a week doing a Beethoven Ninth, or something like that, and had to get a plane to get to Seattle to get to Norfolk the next day.  To make a long story short, it took me eighteen hours to get from British Colombia to Norfolk, and apparently when I’m delayed like that, I simply just write letters.  I’m famous for using stationery in hotels, and I just write them.  You may have gotten one!  [It is shown at the top of this webpage.]

BD:   Yes, exactly!  [Both laugh]

Brown:   At any rate, I get there eighteen hours later, and I must have sat in a certain way all that long time.  I developed phlebitis in my left leg, and I didn’t know it.  I never had been sick in my life, so I didn’t know what it was, and my leg swelled.  I instinctively put my leg up, went to bed, did my concert the next night.  Finally, three months later, I went to my doctor.  He said I was in perfect health, but when I told him that something had happened three months ago to my leg, he said we had better look at it.  The next thing I knew I am in the hospital!  [Laughs]  I’d never been in bed an entire day, but now I’m in the hospital with this thing called phlebitis, which could kill me just like that [snaps fingers] because if it breaks lose, it goes up to my heart.

BD:   [Amazed]  You had been walking around with it for three months???

Brown:   Yes, walking around with it.  They didn’t want me to move, and had my leg lifted, and pushed me around.  I said,
“In twelve days I am making a recording, so you either have out of here, or I’m leaving!  I was really serious.  I had my score, and I would have them wheel me into a room so I could practice.  Two days before I went to Boston, they released me.  Gunther never knew this until the recording was over.  That was one of the most edifying, and gratifying experiences, because in my opinion, there is no better musician than Gunther.  There are some just as good, but none are better musicians.

BD:   There is certainly no musician with the range or the scope of his interests.

Brown:   I don’t think so.  I can’t say enough words for him.  I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the great minds, but to me, he epitomizes what a musician ought to be about.  So, from that point of view, it was a great experience.  It was truly inspiring.  [He then mentioned a few of his other recordings, and lamented that he would like to do them over again since now he was more experienced.]  I have a fairly decent discography!

BD:   Does that please you that those recordings are out there?

Brown:   Yes.  I like my recordings.  I used to hate to hear myself on recordings.  I wouldn’t listen to them. 

BD:   But now it’s okay?

Brown:   Yes, and I don’t know why.

BD:   [Optimistically]  Because you’re maturing!

brown Brown:   I guess so.  But on the other hand, there were some things that I did that sounded to me better than I had originally thought.  Either that, or I had better equipment, which could be the case.  I have better equipment today than when I heard them originally.  But the public knows what they’re doing, especially in the opera situation.  Unless you are over the hill and they’ve loved you all their lives, by and large when you’re somewhat of an unknown, they’re probably not going to rise to the occasion unless you go way beyond the norm.

BD:   Does that make you give 150% at each concert?

Brown:   I have always given 200%.  I would try to give more than a 1,000% if I could.  A classic example of that was when I first started out.  I got my first break in Washington DC.  I was in the Navy Chorus, and it’s like other places where you generally cannot get into the upper echelons or venues.  You can do the churches and stuff like that, but there was no possible way, so I moved away... all of thirty miles up the road.  Three months later I returned to Washington thinking I’d be a favorite son.  I was going to do a recital at Howard University, but at that time there were the race riots going on.  They were bringing the city down.  For my recital, they had sold out 1,700 seats, because a lot of people knew me in DC, and they wanted to see what the big fuss was about.  On the day of the performance, only five people came because they were afraid to go out in the streets.  My accompanist was a Filipino, Reynaldo Reyes, and he asked if I was going to sing, and I said,
I’ve got a contract, and I’m going to sing.  I walked out there, and I sang like there were 5,000 people there.  In that audience was a man who was the President of a consortium of colleges.  He came up to me and said, I’ve been doing concerts for thirty years, and this was extraordinary tonight.  He hired me, and I got about forty jobs as a result of that.  So, after that, if I ever thought I am going to do less than 200%, that really solidified it.

BD:   I assume that now you’re booked solid for a couple of years in advance?

Brown:   Yes.

BD:   Is that a good feeling to know that a couple of years from now you’ll be singing certain works in a certain place?

Brown:   Yes, it’s a very good feeling.  It gives you a certain amount of security, so you can focus on the business of what it is you’re doing.

BD:   You mean the artistry?

Brown:   Yes, the artistry.  There’s no mystery that a Pavarotti is a Pavarotti, or a Kathleen Battle is a Kathleen Battle, or a Jessye Norman is a Jessye Norman.  You have to realize that when they first started out, they had to become known.  I was at Pavarotti’s Met debut, and nobody was making a big thing about it except that this was a big fat tenor from Modena.  What’s the deal?  But a year and half later, after he’s done hours of PR, the rest is history.  Now that is not to take anything away from these peoples’ talent.  It’s just that we have to remember that when they were starting out, they didn’t have a chance to really focus like they are ready to now.  To wake up every morning and just focus on your art requires a tremendous amount of responsibility.  Furthermore, it allows you to present your best.  You’ve got these kids who are worried about where the next meal comes from.  They can’t be thinking about art.  The arts, as we know, flourish with those folks who have nothing to do.  That’s what this is about.  Most of the people in this country are working, and worrying about their next paycheck.  It’s no wonder they go out and see Madonna and Michael Jackson.  It can be an escape.  To come to hear me, you’ve got to deal with some cerebral stuff.

BD:   Beyond all of this cerebral stuff, as you call it, is singing fun?

Brown:   Now it is!  [Much laughter]  Once upon a time it was not so much fun.  It was a lot of work.  Now, it’s a lot of fun.

BD:   Now you combine the work with the fun?

Brown:   Yes.

BD:   I assume it’s not much less work?

Brown:   No, it is lots of work, constant work.  Not a day goes by without that kind of work... seven days a week, real work, but it’s fun because I’m at a point now where I can do what I want to do.  It’s like writing a novel as opposed to writing a daily column.

BD:   So you’re writing the Great American Vocal Novel?

Brown:   I’m not sure I’m not writing a great novel, but I’m doing my best, and some people will take notice of it now.

BD:   Thank you for bringing your artistry back to Chicago.

Brown:   Thank you.  It’s a pleasure.



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See my interviews with Hale Smith, and Donald Erb



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© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on September 21, 1990.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1993 and 1998; and on WNUR in 2003 and 2015.  This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.