Thursday, November 17, 2022

At the Postern Gate


What could singer Oliver Steward, Metropolitan Opera star tenor, Frederick Jagel, and sports announcer Graham McNamee possibly have in common?  First, they are all American born, second, the obvious answer would be a connection to Gena Branscombe.  And, yes, all three of them sang her song, “At the Postern Gate” from her song cycle, “Songs of the Unafraid.”


In Gena’s November 14, 1928 letter to Mr. Austin at Arthur P. Schmidt publishing, she mentions that Oliver Steward had sung the song at a private musicale and at the Plaza Hotel.  She happened to meet Mr. Frederick Jagel of the Metropolitan Opera who told her he had also sung the song at a private musicale and would be singing it over the radio in January.  In what seems to be a whimsical after thought in her letter, she asks if Graham McNamee singing that song on the radio had “stirred up a little life!”


There is no information about Oliver Steward on the internet.  I will surmise he was a New York City based singer who performed recitals and oratorio.


Mr. Frederick Jagel (1897–1982) has an interesting life.  He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1897.  He began his vocal studies in New York City then continued his studies and began his performing career in Italy.  Using the name Federico Jaghelli, he made his opera debut in 1924 as Rodolfo in La Boheme in Livorno.  He returned to the United States to make his 1928 debut at the Metropolitan Opera singing the role of Radames in Aida. He sang 217 performances of 34 roles over his 23 years at that famous house!  He must have given time in his operatic career to perform recitals or sing art songs for special occasion at private parties and on the radio.  Thus, this was his connection to Gena.  When he retired in 1950, he began teaching.  He became Chairman of the Voice Department at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

 The mention of Graham McNamee, the sports announcer, is an interesting one.  McNamee was the sports announcer who created “play-by-play” announcing of baseball games which he did for the 1924 World Series.  He had little knowledge of baseball yet had a knack for describing what he was seeing which captivated his radio listening audience.


McNamee had an early interest in becoming an opera singer which was why he moved to New York City.  On his way to jury duty, he stopped into WEAF radio station to see if he could get an audition as a singer.  There was no work for singers, but, he was asked to speak into the microphone as an audition.  He was immediately hired as a staff announcer.  His announcing career blossomed through sports, reporting on presidents, political conventions and he appeared in movies. 


In the 1920s Graham gave a recital at Aeolian Hall in New York City.  The reviews were very good yet he would find little work singing in churches and giving concerts.  Now….did he happen to sing a few of Gena’s songs on that concert?  Possibly and there are no Aeolian Hall  archives to research.  Gena does mention that he sang “At the Postern Gate” on the radio.  Was the singing of the song during one of his regular broadcasts to entertain his followers or as a solo for a radio station concert?  It’s a swash-buckling tune with lyrics by poet Kendall Banning.  In the era, it would have been considered a “man’s song.”  With his fame and renown, singing “At the Postern Gate” on the radio would have created interest in purchasing the song, sales would have increased and Gena would receive increased royalties.  

That's a good deal!

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