Murder on the high C’s

“They can say that I couldn’t sing, but they can never say that I didn’t sing!” – One of Florence Foster Jenkins’ releases

Ah, the glory days before computer software, when only the very talented, or wealthy eccentrics such as Florence Foster Jenkins could have access to recording facilities.

At sixty years of age, and a lifetime of fantasizing about becoming a singer, Miss Jenkins struck gold when her mother croaked and left her a free woman with a small fortune. In 1930 she set about making her mark in history, albeit inadvertently, as one of the worst recording artists in history.

She was almost an instant comedy sensation. Sporting a sensationally flamboyant wardrobe of her own design and accompanied by a hapless pianist who hilariously compensated for her tone-deaf-ness, her live performances were so coveted that scalpers would sometimes fetch ten times the price for a ticket. For what she absolutely lacked in pitch, rhythm, tone, or what is otherwise known in this dimension as ‘singing talent’, she made up for in stubborn confidence, insisting until the very end that she was a master. That end came a month after a sell-out show at Carnegie Hall in 1944, topping off a paradoxical career.

Behold, the genius of Florence Foster Jenkins in the form of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ‘Queen of the Night’ aria from The Magic Flute:

Download Der Hölle Rach

Florence Foster Jenkins, beyond being the subject of popular ridicule, actually leaves us with a unique legacy. She set out to do the very difficult, with very little ability, very late in life and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. There’s also a nod to be given to the concept of contentment, a state of zen rejected by most true artists, regardless of their achievements. Her bewildering success lies as much in primitive hilarity as it does her balls to look inevitable failure in the face and say ‘I don’t give a fuck, I’m having this’.

6 Responses to “Murder on the high C’s”

  1. Mer Says:

    Yeah, Florence!!
    You gotta freakin’ love her. The ultimate “Fuck You, Daddy” poster child. Most snotty rich kids kids who want to rebel against their parents just take up clove smoking, maybe get a tattoo. Flo eloped and just waited for them to croak. The Muse Surmounted indeed.
    An original print of one of her albums is like the holy grail for 78 collectors.

  2. gooby Says:

    Gotta love those wealthy eccentrics!

    My dad used to listen to this other lady, not quite on the Carnegie level, but of the same ilk, she was known as “Mrs. Miller”, and she would hire musicians to be her back up band while she covered pop hits of the 60’s and put out something like 12 albums on her own! Good stuff!

    Here’s her brilliant rendition of Hard Days Night:

    “Don’t pay too much attention to the sounds. If you do, you may miss the music. You won’t get a heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds.”- Charles Ives

  3. Mer Says:

    Mrs Miller is da bomb.

    I wonder what Frank Zappa thought of these ladies. I know he loved the Shaggs (completely different situation there, but similarly ear-bending results).

    And nowadays we have Wing! Life is good.

  4. AudioAbuse Says:

    LOL! I remember the first time I was introduced to Florence Jenkins, it was also then I suddenly understood how the Nazis got inspired to introduce sound as a weapon against the allies…


    Gooby… my ears are bleeding from this audiorape… and I blame YOU!! THE HORROR… THE HORROR… :P

  5. Beetleginny Says:

    This aura, if you will is capture almost brilliantly with Kiki and Herb. They cover modern pop music and it’s fantastic.

    Here is a link to their wiki:

    and their myspace:

  6. Mer Says:

    Beetleginny, I love Kiki & Herb! My band opened for them a few times at the now-defunct Fez in Manhattan back in the early 00s. Although I’d have to say, in spite of the campy Broadway vibrato and being a bit rough around the edges from all those years of hard living, the voice of “Kiki DuRane” is still pretty damn spectacular.

    One of my many regrets about how I spent my time in NYC was never getting to see them play Carnegie Hall. I’m sure it was almost as amazing as Florence. ;)