Pop Tunes Meaningless to Jeanette MacDonald

by Mary Ann Callan
Los Angeles Times
August 31, 1955

Millions of records spin to millions of pairs of ears in the United States each day but, asks one great, popular woman singer of not-so-long ago: Is it music? Does it have either rhyme or reason to be loved and whistled and hummed? And, more important, is it giving the younger generation a heritage rich in romance from the heartbeat of America?

Jeanette MacDonald, the beautiful redhead who made movie history in a successful series of musicals on the screen and one of the few women to fill the Hollywood Bowl as a feature concert artist says no.

Sitting with unstudied majesty in the patio of her charming Bel-Air home, Miss MacDonald’s eyes floated thoughtfully over the distant vista below her mountain blew, and only her hands drumming emphatically on the table expressed the vehemence with which she gave her opinion.

Finds Nothing Sustaining

“I find nothing sustaining or beautiful in much of the so-called popular music of today,” she said. “You can’t tell the melody, you can’t tell the singer. Everything has a gimmick–everybody is trying to be different. It takes more courage now NOT to be different.”

Its the young people she’s worried about, she said. “There’s the in-between generation, brought up during the war, that has had absolutely no exposure, except in rare cases, to the great music of Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml, Romberg and Strauss.

“With them, this kind of semi classical music is a dead language. All they get is a nervous beat–the rock and roll–and the words and meaning of the melody are left out. There’s just nothing sustaining in the current popular music,” she repeated.

Calls it ‘Dishonest’

She termed it “dishonest” the way present bands change the tune and rhythm of old popular classics. You have to search, she said, to find a strain that’s familiar, and it’s heresy.

The cause, she feels, of lack of taste in popular music is because the public is fed, not what they went, but what the salesmen think they want.

“Constant repetition,” she said, “seems to be the way to make a hit–not it’s qualification as a melody with lyrics that have real meaning for the listener.

“And for the singer, crooner or what have you, it’s the catch in their voice or their off-key delivery or their rantings, not their voice that qualifies them.”

No Opportunity

She looked at what is happening to serious music students who want to sing great music. “They have no opportunity,” she shrugged. “They too, have to have a gimmick, not a voice. Where is the trend going to take us?”

Then she smiled, hopefully and said, “Someday, and I think soon, there is going to be an American composer with courage, and a record company with courage, and a singer with courage who will come up with some good, solid music that will express what modern America is feeling.” She hesitated. “And I think the public will take it and understand that this is what they have wanted for a long, long time.”

There are many young girls, she went on, who has hopes of presenting what she was once–who want to sing for the enjoyment of Americans, who can sing lyrics that the listener can identify with, who are bewildered as who they can follow any serious aspirations.

Said she: “They end up modeling or doing TV commercials, which is a prostitution of talent, but at least they eat.”

She said, also, that part of any young person’s growing up is to hero worship, but she feels that the current trend is robbing youth of celebrities that are solid, who can be guiding lights for the artists of the future. When youth discovers they are phonies with clay feet, they will lose hope and American will be robbed of a continuing talent in music.

A Starvation Diet

In the Interview, she called for a public conscience that will help produce more “arenas for music,” such as the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Music Center, now in the planning stage.

“Without these,” she said, “our musical diet is the juke box and it leads only to starvation for the future.”

Miss MacDonald, wife of Actor and TV Host Gene Raymond, is still appearing in concerts, her current one being at the Sacramento State Fair next week singing Hammerstein and Kern favorites.