Black (Musical Theater) History Month
By Peter Filichia —
February is, of course, Black History Month. So celebrate each day by playing an African-American’s performance from different cast albums.
We have plenty to choose from. Black entertainers have been important components in the Broadway musical, as cast albums dating back to Show Boat’s 1946 revival prove.
In case you need suggestions on what to play on each day, I have a few:
Feb. 1: Play “Getting Ready Rag” from the Ragtime concept album so that you can be getting ready for all these songs you’ll play. Any excuse to hear Brian Stokes Mitchell sing is worth it.
Feb. 2: Now play “Getting Ready Rag” from the Ragtime original cast album. Yes, it’s the same song, so why repeat it? Because it’s Groundhog Day.
Feb. 3: And speaking of Brian Stokes Mitchell, today listen to his recording of Man of La Mancha. The idea that a black man would play a Spaniard was, at one time, an “Impossible Dream.” But times have, we’re happy to say, changed.
Feb. 4: For that matter, there would have been a time when a director of Candide wouldn’t have cast a black Cunegonde. But here’s the exceptional Harolyn Blackwell singing the exceptionally difficult “Glitter and Be Gay” with no difficulty at all.
Feb. 5: Did you know that February is National Cherry Month, too? Before too many days pass, play Valarie Pettiford’s sultry rendition of “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” from Fosse.
Feb. 6: It’s Monday. So first thing Monday morning, play “First Thing Monday Morning” from Purlie.
Feb. 7: Maybe Tuesday will be your good news day. Then it will be quite apt to take out your Children of Eden cast album and play Stephanie Mills’ rendition of “Ain’t It Good?”
Feb. 8: Hard to believe that almost 20 years have passed since Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall. The Boys Choir of Harlem sang “Our Time” from Merrily We Roll Along that night. It’s one of the finest renditions one can hear of this thrilling song.
Feb. 9: In And the World Goes ‘Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb, Brenda Pressley had a number of nice opportunities to shine. But her rendition of the team’s first hit song — “My Coloring Book” – is especially fetching.
Feb. 10: Bertolt Brecht’s birthday. Inner City’s, “Hushaby / My Mother Said,” sung by Paulette Ellen Jones, about the oppressed poor, is one that Brecht would have liked. It’s only one of many winners that Eve Merriam and Helen Miller wrote for this underrated show.
Feb. 11: In celebration of the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964, hear Mary Bond Davis sing “I Know Where I’ve Been” on the Hairspray original cast album.
Feb. 12: Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday. Dare we suggest that you play “Abie Baby” from Hair? It may not be the ultimate tribute to our sixteenth president, but it is an infectious Galt MacDermot tune.
Feb. 13: Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so to get yourself in the
proper mood by playing “Find out What They Like (and How They
Like It – and Give It to Them Just That Way)” from either the
original cast album of Ain’t Misbehavin’ or the revival cast album that features the Pointer Sisters.
Feb. 14: Valentine’s Day means hearts everywhere. Take out Once on This Island and listen to Andrea Frierson in the hauntingly beautiful “The Human Heart.”
Feb. 15: Here’s hoping that after a nice Valentine’s Day, you’ll be “Feelin’ Good.” Hear Gilbert Price express that in song in The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd.
Feb 16: Baby, it’s cold outside? Maybe you can ameliorate that by playing “Summertime,” courtesy of Betty Lane in the much-lauded 1976 Houston Grand Opera production of (DuBose Heyward and The Gershwins’) Porgy and Bess.
Feb. 17: You could, of course, have chosen to hear a different Porgy and Bess cut – say, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” But maybe it IS necessarily so, so hear “Necessity” either on Finian’s Rainbow’s 1947 original cast album (sung by Dolores Martin) or the 1960 revival cast album (via Carol Brice).
Feb. 18: Right now on Broadway, the current Porgy and Bess stars Norm Lewis in the first half of the title roles. Lest we forget his first real role of consequence, listen to him on Side Show. The way he earnestly sings “The Devil You Know” would make anyone take his advice.
Feb. 19: Listen to Terri White as Joice Heth in Barnum show her gratitude in “Thank God I’m Old.” She certainly would have been on this date in 1836, when she died.
Feb. 20: It’s officially “Harry Potter Day,” so take out your Shuffle Along album and hear Thelma Carpenter sing “I’m Just Wild about Harry.”
Feb. 21: Granted, you could have chosen any night in the month to play “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls. But the important thing is to get it in before too much more time passes.
Feb. 22: It’s Washington’s Birthday, so play Tiger Haynes reassuring us that “The Washingtons Are Doing Okay.” It’s from New Faces of 1956, recorded 56 years ago.
Feb. 23: Although Washington’s birthday has passed, you’ll undoubtedly see a picture of him today — thanks to his appearing on the $1 bill. So don’t miss Lena Horne’s singing “Yankee Dollar” from Jamaica.
Feb. 24: Less than a month to go now until spring. Start getting in the mood by playing “A Whole Lotta Sunlight,” the ballad that helped Virginia Capers win a Tony in Raisin.
Feb. 25: So you’re starting to emerge from your winter doldrums. Take out Hallelujah, Baby! and have Robert Hooks inspire you with “Watch My Dust.”
Feb. 26: It’s the day of the All-Star Game in the National Basketball Association, so play Richie’s “Gimme the Ball” from A Chorus Line. It’s easier to find on the 2006 revival cast album, where it gets its own track – 8 – in “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.”
Feb. 27: It’s the 198th anniversary of Beethoven’s conducting his Ninth Symphony for the first time. So let’s call it “Beethoven Day,” thanks to Stanley Wayne Mathis in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Feb. 28: Did you know that there is an International Floral Design Day? It’s today — so play the entire original cast album of House of Flowers, starring Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll.
Feb. 29: Say so long to February by playing Pearl Bailey’s snazzy rendition of “So Long, Dearie” from Hello, Dolly! But don’t wait another four years to play it again. It’s that good.
And while you’re at it, welcome the next month by playing another song from the show, one that’s often referred to as “Motherhood March.”
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com;. His books on musicals are available at Amazon.com.