Welcome! Fridays are the day when we at the McElrath Cabaret Blog are going to present blog posts in our Cabaret Through Time series. We are going to present historical cabaret singers, entertainers, venues, writers, and musicians, and will begin to compile a cabaret timeline. We hope that you find it informative, and that you enjoy it!
Sylvia Syms–Cabaret Legend
Sylvia Syms on Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s classic “As Long As I Live.”
Today’s post features the sublime Sylvia Syms, a saloon singer, a cabaret singer of note. My sources for today’s entry come from The Cabaret Artist’s Handbook by Bob Harrington and edited by Sherry Eaker, as well as Wikipedia and a website called Oldies.com. Unfortunately, there is no official website for Ms. Syms, so it is a matter of piecing together bits of information from various sources to try to get a sense of this wonderful performer. There are several great You Tubes available, and during her life she recorded several albums as well.
Ms. Syms was born in 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. As a child, she suffered from polio, but this did not stop her from attaining star status later in life as a singer who understood the lyrics. At one point during her teen years, she had opportunity to study for a time with Billie Holliday, and eventually began singing in clubs in 1941. At one of these appearances by Syms a few years later, Mae West spotted her and Syms was given the opportunity to appear on Broadway in Diamond Lil, which starred West. Syms was not only a great singer but also a talented actor, who performed at regional theatres in such roles as Bloody Mary from South Pacific, and Dolly Levy from Hello, Dolly.
She was a prolific recording artist during her working years. Some of her albums include:
- Songs By
- After Dark
- Sylvia Sings
- Songs Of Love
- Torch Song
- That Man
- Sylvia Is!
- For Once In My Live
- Love Lady
- She Loves To Hear The Music
- Syms By Sinatra (this album was produced by Frank Sinatra, a long-time admirer of Sym’s work, in 1982)
- A Jazz Portrait Of Johnny Mercer
- Then Along Came Bill
- You Must Believe In Spring
- The Columbia Years
Her 1956 recording of the Lerner and Lowe classic “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from My Fair Lady, sold over one million copies.
She performed in a variety of nightclubs in New York City. Some of them were:
- Billy’s Stable (her premiere NYC performance)
- The Cinderella Club in Greenwich Village
- Michael’s Pub
- The Cafe Carlyle (at times she sang with Bobby Short here)
- The Algonquin Hotel
She died doing what she loved: after performing a Frank Sinatra tribute set at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel on May 10, 1992, she came down off the stage, and seeing Cy Coleman in the audience, walked over to talk to him. As she reached him and leaned over at the table to speak, she had a heart attack and died on the spot.
Today’s cabaret entertainer can learn a great deal from Sylvia Syms. Listen to her exquisite phrasing of the lyrics. None of her singing notes are pinched, but smooth and flowing from idea to idea in both the melody and the lyrics. She is a master storyteller in song.
Some great videos of Sylvia Syms:
Noel Coward’s “Mad About The Boy”
What are your favorite songs that Sylvia Syms recorded? Did you have opportunity to see Ms. Syms perform live? Please leave a comment below and tell us about it–I would love to hear from you!
ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party will begin anew on Monday–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog or now website link through Thursday. Link is below.
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time