Kate Smith taught me a lot.
My great grandmother, Alice Allen, absolutely ADORED Kate Smith. She probably had every record (that's what they called those vinyl round-like things with a hole in the center!) that she ever made. I wasn't aware of the impact this rags-to riches-to rags story would have on me until recently. I received an email from a woman in PA who lovingly said, "Sue, not once - in all your years of making albums and singing or speaking publicly, have I ever questioned what you're singing or saying in a lyric." Wow. What a great compliment! But better than that, what a great responsibility.
Kate Smith was the No. I popular songstress in America in 1938, and her weekly Kate Smith Hour was heard by many millions of radio listeners. And this post is surely not intended to deify the "big voice in a big girl's body". Along with great accolades of fame and honor, came the all too frequent dark side that many singers and artists, who for whatever reason, seem to battle and struggle. If you're a Philadelphia Flyers' fan though, you know well what her recording of "God Bless America" did to that organization and to the entire city of Brotherly Love. It gave a new set of ears the chance to "hear" Kate sing. Her diction and lyric interpretation was impeccable. Aside from the recognizable, "God Bless America", she recorded over 2200 songs in her career. Even if you didn't know the song she was singing, you weren't forced to replay (or pick up the needle to go back to the beginning of the record!) to understand.
For those of you that don't know, since the day I started talking, I was given the gift of a lisp. Yes, it was much more pronounced in the early years. I also had a dentist in Swedesboro, NJ, who correctively severed (?) a tendon under my tongue back in 1959, stating that this would surely help with my "SS.ss.ssss...s's." Lot's a help that was! (Yeah, right.) Later, I was fitted with a mouth piece when I was in third grade. This time the dentist/Dr. said, "Sue's a tongue-thruster. This will correct that." Yeah, right. All I remember is throwing the apparatus across the room about 3:30 am every night, finding later that the cat had played with it.....Yes, speaking/singing is something I have never taken for granted. I work at it. For a season, I was the voice of the Northeast Corridor AMTRAK Industrial Teaching Video series. Then I took a shot at doing radio for 10 years. Lots of listeners would tell my GM at the station that they rarely had to question what I just said or broadcast. Considering I had such a speaking struggle in my early years, it's so very rewarding and refreshing to know that listeners "get it". They hear the message loud and clear, and to me, that's vital.
So, when I hear a lot of women today speaking with a sing-songy whiny or monotone mumble-slur, I want to take their face in my hands and say this:
1. Slow down. E-N-U-N-C-I-A-T-E!
2. Drop your tone down a notch or two.
3. Record your speaking voice. Listen to it over and over.
4. Read aloud to yourself. Let your voice resonate in your brain. And remind yourself that this is what defines me.
5. Quit saying, "like" and "you know" and "um".
I still struggle with the lisp. Some days I sound like Aunt Clara on "Bewitched"! But be assured of this: I promise not to mumble. I promise to live up to the reputation, that my words. distinctively. match. my. heart!