Monday, March 19, 2007


On my drive to and from work, I frequently listen to classical music on WMFT, found locally at 93.9 FM. I not only find it relaxing but it seems to stimulate my imagination...which leads to interesting things for me to write about.

I especially enjoy Bill McGlaughlin, the Peabody award-winning host of the "Exploring Music" program. It airs weeknights at 7:PM, and in addition to his insights, he mixes the music with, the history of the piece, its composer and/or its performers.

Last week, he was taking E-Mail requests and a listener wanted to hear Lily Pons sing La Marseillaise (the French national anthem). Even though I don't understand the words, I have always found that tune to rousing.

So I was thrilled...until he said, "After exhaustive research, no recording could be found of her singing it." But Mr. McGlaughlin did go on to explain the unique circumstance that made her performance special.

Lily Pons (1898-1976) was a French-born opera superstar. After getting "discovered," she came to the U. S. and became the New York Metropolitan Opera's principle soprano from 1931-1960.

While in Paris during the German occupation of WWII, Ms. Pons performed an Italian opera (I'm sorry, I didn't catch the title) to a capacity house that included German generals and other dignitaries of the Third Reich. After several curtain calls, she returned to the stage draped in a French flag and sang La Marseillaise...despite the fact that the Germans had banned it.

McGlaughlin neglected to mention what retributions were suffered by the performers. As well as the previously dormant, overwhelmingly French audience, whose patriotism was spurred by the impromptu encore. Hopefully, there weren't any?

The host also failed to give the date of this performance. Which leads me to one of my favorite movies, "CASABLANCA." In a film that featured so many great performances and so many memorable lines, its easy to overlook the singing of La Marseillaise. However, you may recall towards the end, German officers took over Sam's piano and sang their regimental songs at the bar. The anti-Nazi majority bowed their heads in defeat until Victor Laszlo instructed the band to play the French anthem. The band's singer became energized and led the crowd in drowning-out the Germans, ala Lily Pons.

So I pose the age old question; what came first...did Lily Pons steal the screen writer's idea or vice versa?

Your decision should be made easier by a couple of historic facts: The German occupation of France started in June of 1940 and Casablanca, with actual stock footage of the take-over, came out in 1942.

Also, remember after Rick's drunken flashback of the Germans marching into Paris he said to Ilsa, "I remember every detail, they wore gray and you wore blue." Later he also said, "We'll always have Paris."

So the cat is out of the bag, the screenwriter got his idea from Ms. Pons.

Therefore, Lily Pons, in addition to her lifetime achievements on stage should also be remembered for her heroism, patriotism and inspiration.

Now that I wet your whistle, go ahead and Google, La Marseillaise. Its history alone is fascinating (it was written 1n 1792) and wait till you read the English translation of the lyrics, (we'll water our crops with the blood of our enemies), is just one example.

As you know "MORE GLIB ThAN PROFOUND," prides itself on being non-political...but think about it, how can those weaselly Frogs face each other, especially when you consider their war-time road-record...while zestfully singing their anthem.

Still, its a catchy ditty, to me. So go ahead check it out, I think you'll like it too.

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