File under: Keeping a promise to absent friends.
This is a very personal “open letter” to Ms. Teresa Stratas, whom we will be profiling next week with two decades out-of-print recordings of her singing the music of Kurt Weill.
Dear Ms. Stratas,
My name is Ben Brown Jr. I am the host of a commercial and ad free music program on my website entitled “What You’re Not Listening To”. Originally conceived as a weekly program I have been producing for more 3 1/2 years ago, I somehow am nearing my 300th hour of original programming spotlighting audio from across the spectrum, many of these shows coming by listener request.
Last April, a good friend of ours, Donald “Wayne” Carlon told me he absolutely loved the three-day “Variations on Alban Berg’s Lulu” program Ronald E. Smith (my special co-host for the program) and I did last year. I told Wayne it was our third most listened to program of the 2017, and our #1 in terms of listener response. (The majority of our programs are not in this genre, but typically R&B, Rock and Pop, for example.) The final day of the program featured you, Ms. Stratas, in the title role, which deservedly won you two Grammy Awards in 1981.
Wayne was a former music librarian at the Portland Symphonic Choir. He asked if there would be more performances of 20th Century music like Berg’s, and I told him that yes, we are planning another program featuring hard to find music outside of what was played on classical radio. I remember him being so very excited that we would present this unique and amazing set of performances this year of your two albums of Kurt Weill songs, Stratas Sings Weill and The Unknown Kurt Weill.
Fast-forward to about three weeks later, to mid-May. My husband Travis had been ill for an extended period of time, and he went into the hospital due to a series of heart attacks on 12 May 2018. Two days later, our friend Wayne died. Unfortunately, because of our immediate commitment to taking care of Travis, Ron and I weren’t aware of Wayne’s passing for some time, and he had no other family here in Oregon that we knew of. (Ron was my rock during this difficult period and assisted me daily with caring for my husband, which left us both out of the loop for too long a while.) We were the first among our friends to find out as well, and had to break the news to others.
It breaks my heart into a million pieces that Wayne isn’t with us on this plane of existence to hear this show next week. This will literally be the only place on the internet that we know of that will feature these recordings for free download, or for download at all. They are also available for ad-free streaming, and the only place on the internet with as high a quality as they will offer vs. commercial streaming sites.
It is our goal and wish that possibly some of Wayne’s extended family members that we have not met get to share in this experience that will be especially dedicated to him.
Ms. Stratas, you once revealed in an interview that Lotte Lenya, the wife of Kurt Weill and actually name checked in his best known composition, “Mack the Knife”, had begged you to record her husband’s songs as she lay on her deathbed. You also stated that you felt a huge burden to comply with her request, but it is with your two albums of Weill’s material that you did actually return to singing after a three year absence.
Your recordings of this material are considered to be of the highest quality in terms of performances of this music by critics. My exposure to recordings of Weill’s work by other artists is limited for certain, but from what I have heard, I am not going to argue with their assessment.
I don’t know if it is a burden that I carry to make this material great next week, but I must admit, there is something there. If Einstein was correct, then energy never dies, it is only repurposed, and for all we know, Wayne will connect to us as we are all connected to the universe.
Here’s to hoping we do this the justice and love it deserves. Thank you Ms. Stratus. You have no idea just how much you have touched people with your gifts. The show will broadcast next week on 30 August 2018, and once again, Ron will be my special co-host.
Love to you Ms. Stratas, and love to everyone.
Ben Brown Jr.
Ace of Spades PDX
Pictured at the top of the page: Teresa Stratas, 1981, photo by Keith Holzman