The beginning of the 20th century was a time of mass immigration from the Old World to the New. Enrico Caruso, a Neapolitan tenor in New York, was to become one of the great revolutionaries of the modern male voice; the first practitioner to realise the qualities of suggestiveness, of intimacy over power.
Caruso was singing in an age where opera arias were in direct competition with popular vaudeville music, but the two forms were soon influencing and drawing inspiration from each other - in particular when it came to vocal delivery. But it took prohibition and the dawning of the Jazz Age to bring this cross-fertilisation to real fruition.
A cosmopolitan, mixed-race audience was brought together through illicit booze, entertained by the likes of Louis Armstrong, who improvised and personalised popular songs of the day. Bing Crosby ushered in the age of the crooners, paving the way for a new generation of casual swingers, many Italian-American in origin, with the likes of Frank Sinatra bringing echoes of Caruso to the swooning bobby-soxers. This was intimacy as art.
Nat 'King' Cole would in turn influence the soul singers, in particular Marvin Gaye, who in turn had a profound effect on a young Elvis Presley. And, when Presley released his version of Caruso's O Sole Mio, better known as It's Now or Never, the circle was complete.Watch now on 4oD
|Sunday 18 January 2004||Channel 4|