Last Wish: Noel Rosa’s Samba

Noel de Medeiros Rosa was born in the Vila Isabel neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro on 11th December 1910. It was a traumatic birth and a forceps delivery left him with permanent damage to his lower jaw; yet this did not prevent Rosa from pursuing his dreams and eventually becoming a huge star in his native Brazil. At the age of 13, Rosa went to the Colégio de São Bento where he would stay until 1928, and it was at school that he learnt to play the mandolin and the guitar, excelling at both. In 1930, Rosa won a place to study medicine and planned to become a doctor, but when he discovered Rio’s more bohemian nightclubs, where samba music could be heard until dawn and the drink flowed freely, he found a new ambition. Quitting university, Rosa formed a band, Bando de Tangarás.

Rosa’s first successful recording was Com que roupa? (1930) and the ensuing popularity of his compositions stemmed from the novel and whimsical way in which he merged traditional Brazilian rhythms with urbane and often humorous lyrics. To his fans, he became affectionately known as ‘The Poet of the Village.’ By 1931, Rosa had become one of the biggest names in samba and a host of highly respected musicians were eager to collaborate with him. Further hits followed, such as Coração (1932), Filosofia (1933), Conversa de botequim (1935) and São coisas nossas (1936).

Above: Noel Rosa – Com que roupa? (1930) Continue reading

Sophisticated Lady: The Essence Of Phyllis Hyman

On 30th June 1995, Phyllis Hyman was found unconscious in her New York apartment. After Hyman failed to arrive for her show at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, Lennice Malina, her concerned personal assistant, went to the singer’s home to check on her. Surrounded by bottles of pills, Hyman had taken an overdose of barbiturates and was taken to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, where she died hours later. It would seem that Hyman had finally succeed in ending her own life on her third attempt; beside her, a note was found, explaining how she was too ‘tired’ to go on living and though it was cold comfort, she reassured her family and friends, ‘Those that I love know who you are. May God bless you.’

Growing up in Pittsburgh, where she was born on 6th July 1949, Hyman, the eldest of seven siblings, had worshipped singers like Nina Simone and James Brown from an early age. Discovering that she had a powerful and stirring voice of her own, Hyman attended a musical school, however, as she later stated, ‘I always knew I could sing but I didn’t always want to do it professionally.’ In 1971, went on tour with the group New Direction, before joining the Pittsburgh-based bands, All the People and The Hondo Beat. By 1975, Hyman had come to the attention of trumpeter Sid Maurer, who had set up his own label, Roadshow Records. Impressed by her immense talent, Maurer immediately signed Hyman and she moved to New York.

Following a stint performing in some of the city’s hottest nightclubs, Hyman met the jazz drummer and arranger Norman Connors who was looking for a female vocalist for several tracks on his forthcoming album, You Are My Starship, scheduled for release by New York label, Buddah Records. You Are My Starship went to number 5 in the US R&B charts and the single Betcha By Golly Wow, a cover of the 1972 hit by The Stylistics, for which Hyman provided the vocals, received considerable airplay from R&B radio stations nationwide. As a result, Hyman was signed to Buddah Records herself, and released her first album Phyllis Hyman in 1977, followed by Sing a Song in 1978. Continue reading

Faith, Hope And Charity: The Plays Of Ödön von Horváth

‘It just has so often a yearning within – 
but then you go back with broken wings 
and life goes on, 
as if you’d never been there.’

– Karoline in Kasimir und Karoline by Ödön von Horváth (1932)

Born in Fiume in Hungary (now Croatia and known as Rijeka since 1945) on 9th December 1901, Edmund Josef Horvát was the son of Dr Edmund Josef Horvát, a Hungarian diplomat, and his Hungarian-German wife, Mary Hermione Prehnal. The following year, the family moved to Belgrade and another son, Lajos, arrived in 1903. In 1908, they moved again to Budapest, where Edmund and Lajos were schooled in Hungarian. As a reward for his diplomatic service, Dr Horvát was ennobled and sent to Munich. The Horvát children remained at school in Hungary, but changed their name to reflect their father’s new-found status; this meant the addition of ‘von’ in German and another ‘h’ added to their surname in Hungarian.

A year before the outbreak of the First World War, Edmund and his brother moved to Munich, before going to live in Bratislava, and then with an uncle in Vienna. The frequent relocations of his childhood would leave von Horváth without a fixed sense of national identity as he later revealed, ‘If you ask me what is my native country, I answer: I was born in Fiume, grew up in Belgrade, Budapest, Pressburg, Vienna and Munich, and I have a Hungarian passport, but I have no fatherland. I am a very typical mix of old Austria-Hungary: at once Magyar, Croatian, German and Czech; my country is Hungary; my mother tongue is German.’ In fact, von Horváth only learnt his ‘mother tongue’  during his teens in Munich, but it was the only language he wrote in thereafter.

Enrolling as a student at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in 1919, von Horváth studied German literature and drama, which prompted him to begin writing his own plays; early titles included Das Buch der Tänze (1920). After abandoning his studies in 1922, he divided his time between Berlin and Salzburg and began calling himself Ödön, the Hungarian spelling of his name. From 1924, he was also a frequent visitor to his parents’ new home in Murnau, Upper Bavaria. Continue reading

Immortal Beloved: Count von Cosel And Elena

On 25th October 1931, 22 year-old Elena de Hoyos finally succumbed to the tuberculosis that had already killed several members of her family. Her remaining relatives were not alone in mourning the loss of Elena, an exceptionally beautiful and talented young woman who, before her illness, had a bright future ahead of her as a singer and entertainer. Eighteen months before her death, Elena had come to the attention of the eccentric Count Carl von Cosel. He was no genuine aristocrat, but von Cosel had arrived in Florida from Dresden in Germany in 1927, when he was 50. In America, he changed his title and name from the more humble Tanzler, after abandoning his German wife and their two children. Immediately smitten with Elena, von Cosel believed she was the striking dark-haired woman he later claimed to have been haunted by dreams and visions of.

Never short of suitors on account of her dazzling looks, in 1926 Elena married Luis Mesa, a local man who, like herself, was of Cuban origin. The marriage broke down soon after when Elena suffered a miscarriage and was then diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was during one of her hospital stays that Elena first met von Cosel, who was working as a radiologic technologist at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West. Befriending Elena’s parents, von Cosel promised them that he would be able to cure their daughter, even though doctors had warned them there was little hope that she would recover. As he treated her using his own outlandish methods involving x-rays and other machines, as well as tonics containing specks of gold, von Cosel professed his undying love to the dying Elena and brought her extravagant presents. Uninterested, she routinely snubbed his advances, and von Cosel failed in his quest to heal the object of his affection.

A devastated von Cosel offered to pay for Elena’s funeral and also had an elaborate mausoleum built for her at the Key West Cemetery, which he visited on a nightly basis. He also built an airship that he christened ‘The Countess Elena,’ and expressed his wish that some day, he and his dear departed one might travel to the stars in it, where they would be ‘high into the stratosphere, so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena’s tissues and restore life to her somnolent form.’ Continue reading