Skip To Content

Some Lost Southern Accents and Some Lost Comic Arts

by Douglas Watt

Source: , September 7, 1949

Kurt Weill said they had listened to 800 Negro singers in casting “Lost in the Stars,” the new musical he and Maxwell Anderson wrote, and that not one of them had a southern accent. “The baritones all sang ‘Old Man River,’ the tenors ‘Without a Song’ and the sopranos ‘Cindy Lou.'” The latter is Oscar Hammerstein’s version of the “Habanaera” from “Carmen,” used in “Carmen Jones.”

“They used a different version of ‘Old Man River,'” Weill went on, leaving our words like ‘darky.’ It’s all happened in the last ten years, their losing that southern accent, and it’s an encouraging thing, in a way. [editor’s note: The punctuation is reproduced exactly as in the source, even though the last sentence is apparently spoken by Weill.]

“I’ve been trying, ever since I came to this country, to work toward an American idiomatic opera–we probably shouldn’t use that word–in my shows. I think ‘Street Scene’ was my biggest step in that direction. The last half was rained out at Lewisohn Stadium this Summer, but I was glad to see how enthusiastically the people received what they heard of it. I think the universities will start doing it next . . . Ann Arbor, probably next year.

Slightly Wrong

“You were wrong about ‘Lost in the Stars,’ the title song of our new show. It wasn’t written for ‘Knickerbocker Holiday,’ but for another show Max and I wrote four years later, ‘Ulysses Africanus,’ a Negro show that never got on. Walter Huston didn’t record it until 1945, when they put it on the back of the recording of ‘September Song.’

“Rodgers and Hammerstein have helped the idea of a genuine Broadway lyric theater immeasurably, but they are like Standard Oil in their field . . . it would be silly to compete with them. I have to work in my own way.”

The small, gentle, tremendously accomplished composer walked on to a rehearsal . . .

Leaving behind Tom Ewell, a funny man of the trained variety, having nothing in common with the meat-axe, untrained variety of funny man which flourishes or withers, as the case may be, in night clubs and on movie house stages.

[The rest of the article has nothing to do with Weill or Lost in the Stars.]

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.