William Warfield


William Warfield




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Oral histories

Biographical Text

William Warfield (1902-2002) earned a Bachelor of Music degree at Eastman in 1942, and returned at the close of World War II for a period of graduate studies in 1947, prior to embarking upon a career in stage and concert performance in which he gained high critical acclaim and strong international reputation as a concert baritone, film and television actor, and narrator. He then distinguished himself as a teacher of voice and professor of music at the University of Illinois. In recognition of his notably outstanding career, the University of Rochester awarded him an honorary doctor of Music degree at Commencement in 1988.


103 minutes


Watanabe, Ruth
Braund, John C.


Warfield, William


RW: Well, hi Bill.

WW: Hi, it's good to be here. It's a long time.

RW: It's been a long time. The first time I saw you was clear back in 1942. You hadn't gone into the service yet. We had an air raid drill. We were seated in the main corridor, the famous main corridor. Has it changed much?

WW: No, not too much.

RW: Not too much?

WW: Not the corridor, but everything else around it.

RW: ….everything else has changed... and we were all sitting around and we didn't know what to expect and you got up and said, "Let's sing." So we sang, and you sang, and that was the first time I heard you sing. Now, do you remember stuff like that?

WW: Vaguely, I remember several kinds of things in that corridor, especially the Christmas carols, I mean, that we did every year and madrigal singing, and all kinds of things took place in that corridor and up those stairs, and, of course, it was re-heightened just last year when I came back for the big anniversary year and we all got out in the corridor and recreated Christmas, actually, with what we did with the carols and things and it was wonderful reminiscing.  

RW: Those were wonderful days. They still do the Christmas thing.

WW: I know. It has become quite the tradition.

RW: Have you been there, John, for those?

JB: Oh yes. I was the Registrar here back in the mid-60's, so Christmas Sings are part of everybody's heart and soul that have been at Eastman. Also, as a student here in the 50's, when I was a River Campus student but studied over here, I participated in a number of Eastman activities. I am interested, Bill, in the things that brought you to Eastman in the first place -- your life in Rochester and how you happened to come here.

WW: It evolved out of that. Now, let me tell you what happened. I am a product of the Rochester public schools and during those days it was the epitome... oh, if only the youngsters had what we had then. In high school, I got the languages... Latin, Italian, French, German. As a high school student, as a matter of fact, I won a city-wide competition in reciting German poetry. I remember very vividly I did, "Am Brunnen vor dem Tore/Da steht ein Lindenbaum", as a high school student and so, I was being groomed for the Eastman even back in Washington High School. I had a teacher there by the name of Elsa Miller, and around 16 years old I started studying voice with Elsa Miller. Alfred Spouse was the superintendent of music in the public schools at that time and he would  come and he would listen, and then I entered a competition which was at the Music Educators' National Convention out in St. Louis in 1938, but prior to that competition, we had to win locally, and then regionally, to be sent to the national. Well, Elsa Miller and Alfred Spouse, they all groomed me for it. I even, there were several of us...there turned out to be three of us that were actually sent to the national. We won here, won in the regional, and then went to the national convention. Now, during the course of that time, Elsa Miller, who was a very good friend of Arthur Kraft, had called on him and said, ''I want you to come down and guide me with this young man because I want you to take him over, you know, when he gets ready for college." So, I used to go to her house on evenings sometime, and Arthur would come over and he would listen to our lesson and then give her points and so on and so forth, so I was probably like hand…turned-over from Elsa Miller to Arthur Kraft in the Eastman School of Music, and it was already predetermined if I won the competition with the Music Educators National Conference in St. Louis, that the Eastman would be the college that I would choose to come to. I already decided to do that and that was a method of getting there, of having my tuition paid and, of course, for the whole time I was here I was an A student and I was granted the financial assistance that I needed. So, it was sort of… that's what got me into Eastman. I had never even considered going anywhere else. There was the Juilliard, the Curtis Institute, all of those, but I had already decided to come to the Eastman.

RW: Good thing!

WW: So, I entered here and I became a member of the Class of 1942 that is the class that I graduated from, and that was very interesting too, because I give an account of that in the book that I wrote, about how I was at basic training and really at the bottom ebb and came in and found this letter on my cot saying that the Board of Trustees had granted me a Bachelor of Music, and that I would be graduating with my class in May at the ceremony. Now, the interesting thing about that was that all during the time that I was at the Eastman, I was taking all kinds of extra things….language…in fact, I was told that if I had wanted to, by the time I graduated I could have gone into a program for a master's in French because I had had that much language in French, diction, I had conversation, you know our dear friend…

RW: A.T. Cummins.[1]

WW: A.T. Cummins. It was just…She was just such a delightful lady, and I have so many wonderful fond memories. In fact, our closeness was through Miss Cummins, mostly, Ruthie, you and I. We just adored her. Didn't you come to New York with her once?

RW: Yes, we went to New York.

WW: ... and she was just, I just admired her so, and she really, really was a tremendous...  

When I went into the service, having studied here, French Diction with her... when I went into the service, I was in Camp Ritchie, Maryland, at Military Intelligence, and there I spoke with... they were refugees... came there and were put into Military Intelligence from Germany, from Italy, all over, and I was in charge of the theater and the recreation hall. And one evening if it was a bunch of Germans we would all speak German, another evenings, if Italian, we would all speak Italian, and I had all of those languages as a youngster, that's why they sent me to Military Intelligence. As a matter of fact, it was very interesting because I was in basic training and got my orders and it said "Ordnance." I said...  Ordnance! I got so angry, I said, "What in the world makes you think I can drive a truck when you got all of those other qualifications?" I protested, and I went to the man in charge and said, "I do languages, I sing...  I said, what in my record wants to make you send me off to ordnance?" Well, he said, we would like to put you through some tests. So, they put me through a language test, French, German and Italian, in which I wrote and spoke and read for them, and they decided that they were going to send me into Military Intelligence and I got into Military Intelligence because I fought for it. Well, anyhow, now to get back to the other thing... So, in one evening in the recreation hall, if the people there were German, we would speak German, if they were Italian, we would speak Italian, if they were French, we would speak French, and I used to really enjoy that because especially with Germans, you know, I would know if this one was from North Germany, that one from Vienna, and so on...

RW: Especially if they were from Vienna, remember...  (laughter)

WW: Oh, yes, and I would bring up little things I knew that were controversial. I said, well, "Shouldn't you say that so and so and so and so." And they would say, "You are absolutely right." "Oh, no." And then I would sit back and watch them argue for a while. I would get a big kick out of it. (Laughter) But one of the most...  

RW: Jessie[2] and Miss Cummins were both very proud of you...  

WW: Jessie Kneisel, we just lost Jessie recently and I kept in touch with her all the way through and, of course, her husband, Karl, before. And this has been sort of, one of those…. I must tell you, I don't know whether I have told you this story about Miss Cummins. I came back from the service all dressed up in my khaki and I peeked in the door and she said, "Mr. Warfield, come in."

RW: I can hear her!

WW: And I walked in and we started talking French, you know, and I was very fluent then because I had been doing it with a lot of the people from France that were at the camp, and all of a sudden this look of consternation came in Miss Cummins' eyes, and she stopped talking French and started talking, "Mr. Warfield, you evidently have been talking with people from  Marseilles and it is ruining your accent." (Laughter)

JB: Oh, yes.

RW: What about your work with Yves Tinayre[3]?

WW: Yves Tinayre was, well now, when I went back to... I had done this stint with Call Me Mister for a year on the road and then when I came back into New York, that was when I decided well, now that I've bit the bullet I might as well stay in New York and see what I can do, and I was eligible for GI rights and so I joined the American Theater Wing through my GI, and got two people, Yves Tinayre and Otto Hertz, and these were the two people that I worked with that actually groomed me for my Town Hall debut which came in 1950. And Yves Tinayre was a tremendously fine singer, and a specifically fine musicologist. In fact, I have things now, that he gave me when I was studying with him that are from his private collection of things that he found in libraries, you know all about that Ruth, in Europe. The Alles mit got zu ehretten the one that I use on my recording was from his, and then there was a Monteverdi 150th Psalm which nobody has but me, and I got that from...excuse me (coughs)

RW: That's what you get for coming back to Rochester.

WW: As a matter of fact, I had a...  no, this happened before Rochester. I had a tremendous cold. It went right into a cough and, oh boy, that's the singer's horror, you know.

JB: Yes, indeed.

RW: It is, it is.

WW: ...but it happens to us. I must say during the course of my career, and that has been since 1947, I think there has been only… I can count on one hand the number of concerts in those years that I have had to cancel straight out and/or else postponed. So, I have been lucky with it, you know.

RW: Yeah, you have been very good about that. How did you...  go ahead.

JB: No, I was just going to say a singer has to be somewhat of a hypochondriac because you are your instrument and you have to take care of yourself.

WW: Oh yes, that is very true. I mean, yes, and I try to impress upon my students that, too because youngsters have a way of thinking, oh, they can just do anything and then jump up and sing…

JB: Indestructible.

WW: …and if your body is tired, your voice is not going to sound right. And I have actually had some students that came to me when I was at the University of Illinois and said, "Can I make my lessons on Thursdays because... ," and I would say, "Why on Thursdays particularly?" "Well, you see, whenever we have football games and they're on Saturday, I am always hoarse on Monday," and I would just hit the ceiling (laughter) and say, "You've got no business out there screaming," and would you believe it, I sat down with students of mine and taught them how to holler without hurting their throats.

JB: Wonderful!

WW: I said now when you get there say, "Hey," don't say, "Eh," say, "Hey," right up in the top of your head, and let it go, I said, and it won't hurt your voice. Can you imagine teaching people how to yell at a football game?

JB: So, you worked with the lllini cheerleaders as well?

WW: Yes, I sure did.

RW: Football is a big thing out there, for heaven sake's.

WW: Oh Lord, and Homecoming and oh...  

RW: First of all, why don't you tell us about how you got into Call Me Mister. You came back from the service...

WW: I came back, and you see, these were during the days of Dr. Hanson[4] and he was, well you know, those were very special days. There was a kind of relationship between Dr. Hanson and anybody in the school. Anybody, the lowest freshman could go by the director's office and say, "Can I talk to Dr. Hanson?" and he sort of knew who he was…

RW: And he called everybody by his first name, do you remember that?

WW: Oh yes, yes, and "Bill," and so I came on back, and he was still here, and I entered the... they didn't have a Masters in voice, it was in Music Literature. Do they have it in voice now?

RW: Yes they have, they have...  a performance masters...

JB: Yes, in Performance and Literature...  

WW: And so I came back, and I was studying for this masters in Music Literature and I was called from New York and asked "Could I come and audition for Herman Levin," and, what's his name, the other fellow, oh good heaven's it went right out of my head… But now, for what was to be the road company of the big hit called Call Me Mister, on Broadway. So, I went down—Douglas Fairbanks—and I went down and auditioned for it, and they offered me right then a tour of the road company, which meant that I would have to leave school and couldn't finish the master's degree. So, I came back and I had a talk with Dr. Hanson about it, he says, "Bill," he says, "why don't you do this," he says, "Go on it," he says, "You can always come back and finish your master's degree but this might be your entree into the career, and just go on and do that and see how that all works, and if you then find you want to come back and finish the master's degree, you can, and if things start working out for you, well, you won't need a master's degree to perform anyhow, so just go to it." Well, it just so happens that he predicted that. By the time I came out that year later, I decided to stay in New York and just see where this was all going to take me. That's when I got with the American Theater Wing and started grooming for my debut. I did a few nightclub stints, I was at a cocktail lounge where I sat and played and sang for myself. As a matter of fact, it was at a nightclub stint that I met the gentleman who actually sponsored my Town Hall debut in 1950.

JB: Was that in Toronto?

WW: That was in Toronto, at what was called the Club Norman then, and that doesn't exist anymore, in fact, it is even torn down, that whole area is different. It's where I met Oscar Peterson and a whole bunch of Canadian people that were just beginning their careers at that time. But something even more interesting, you know, and before we get to that, in the Call Me Mister cast, we were just like a family. We travelled for one year on the road and finally ended up in '47, before I went back to New York, in San Francisco. I think that was our last performance, and we became sort of one big family. In fact, there were several people in that cast that have become well-known names, number one, well there was a man named William Marshall and he was a black actor, and he was my... and we alternated the role and understudied, and he's been quite an actor in Hollywood. Do you remember the film, Blacula, the black version of Dracula?

JB: Oh, yes (laughter))

WW: That was William Marshall. He has been on several episodes of Star Trek and things like that. And then there was a little, there was a little pudgy comedian who was making his debut on the road, getting experiences for Broadway, by the name of Buddy Hackett…

JB: Oh, yes.

WW: There was a stand-up comedian who was working with him that was, who was just married and was getting his break, and I remember bouncing his little son on my knee during that period of time. That was Carl Reiner and his son Rob.

JB: Amazing.

WW: And then there was a little hoofer that was just a tap dance ingénue, young kid in this show, just a vibrant young man who turned out to be Bob Fosse. All of us were in this company getting our sea legs, as you want to say, in Call Me Mister in '46 or '47. There were others, too, I mean, who became well-known actors, Bill LeMassena who became a fine actor on Broadway, and that was one of those periods of growth and incubation that was preparing me for what was to come, and then as I worked with Otto Hertz and Yves Tinayre, the debut came in 1950, an outgrowth of the experience at the Club Norman in meeting Walter Carr, who sponsored that debut, and then the rest is history.

RW: My goodness.

JB: I remember hearing about your debut from Marlowe Smith.

WW: Oh, yes. Now Marlowe Smith...

JB: One of my musical mentors also.

WW: Yes, he is the one that took over after Alfred Spouse.

RW: That's right.

JB: Yes, with the Interhigh Choir…

WW: Interhigh Choir... and we were very close friends. As a matter of fact, I left out something during... before I came here in 1938, one of my exciting experiences was at the World's Fair with the Interhigh Choir. We were sent to the World's Fair that year in New York, and I remember singing with the Interhigh Choir. And then another thing that was very exciting for me, Dr. Spouse was then, you know, was conducting the Interhigh Choir and whatnot, and we always had a Spring concert. And one of the things we were rehearsing was the Handy "St. Louis Blues," the choral version of it, and all of a sudden in the middle of rehearsal one Saturday morning, I was a senior then, Mr. Spouse stopped, he says, "You know, I have an idea. Bill Warfield come up here."

RW: So Bill Warfield went up there.

WW: And so I went up there and he says, "I want you to conduct this at the Spring Festival, at the Spring Concert at the Eastman." I looked at him and thought, this man's kidding. But I had a pretty good idea of conducting because I had worked with my father's church choir and all of that sort of thing. So, I got up and we went through it once. He says, "That's it, that's it." And I had my first experience as a choral conductor as a senior in high school conducting the Interhigh Choir at the Eastman Theatre in the "St. Louis Blues."

JB: That's amazing.

RW: It is amazing. All these little things that happened when you were in school, they lead to something.

WW: Of course, they do.

RW: That's the reason why everybody has to pay attention to what they do in school (laughter).

WW: As a matter of fact, I tell my students all the time, I say, "Look, when you step out on that stage, you are the sum total of every experience you've had, every person you have met, everything that you have learned, everything that you have read, that will come out in one simple rendition of a Schubert lied...

RW: That's right. You are absolutely right.

JB: That's right.

WW: ... and the more you amass unto yourself, the more it's going to come out in a sense of what you are and what is happening when you perform. And I think one of the reasons, things that instilled that in me was the fact that I was in the Eastman School of Music, and it was during the days of Hanson and the whole outlook of the curriculum, and as you know, I mean, we had to know symphonies for that master's program, we had to know symphonies as well as anybody else... chamber music... all of this was all in me from the work that I was doing here at the Eastman School of Music. And I think, and then even that, because it was a college of the University of Rochester, the academic work that we had to take, too. And I've... and the theory and all of those things. There was a big thing, as you know, Ruth, having to do with if you are going to be a singer, why not go to a conservatory and not study all of the other stuff, too.

RW: Yes, that's right. That used to be a big thing.

WW: I am a prime believer that all of that helps. I fall back on things, now, even, at 72, that I learned, at that moment I didn't think had one thing to do with singing, but it did.

RW: It did. Isn't that amazing.

WW Yeah, I know, it's unbelievable, yeah. So…

RW: How did you get into the films?

WW: After my debut in Town Hall in 1950, that really started everything off, and there was a lady there who was Nell Fleming, and she was a representative of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. She got on the phone the next day and said, "Grab this young man for a tour, before he is too expensive." So, they signed me to a three-month tour in Australia, which I took off to do, and that was really an experience for me because...  

RW: Oh, I should think so, goodness.

WW: ...I had to do four different recitals in Sydney, and about two different performances, three different performances with the Sydney Symphony. And all of that I was telling you about, doing extra, doing extra, doing extra, and why I got my degree early, was the pattern that I worked. I was able at 30 years old, to produce all of that without repeating myself. I had learned that much music, three whole recitals, not repeating myself...

JB: It would be a huge repertoire.

WW: ...I had built at 30 years old, this tremendous repertoire just by doing more and more and more, as much as I could do, as much as I could learn. And there it came, right then I needed it, and then it was sort of like being fatally, by fate, just propelling me into being ready for what might have happened after that. Well, anyhow, to make a long story short, I was in Australia and, you know, in those days there were two big columnists in Hollywood; Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons...

RW: Yes, I remember those, oh my word!

WW: ... and they were syndicated all over the world. And I was reading a Hedda Hopper column, and in the Hedda Hopper column, she said that Arthur Freed had still not found the fellow that, the bass-baritone, that he wanted to sing "Old Man River" in his new Showboat. Well, my manager was getting ready to come back to New York at the time. He had gone with me because it was my first tour. He says, "I'll tell you what, he says, I am going and I'm going, to Dorie Sherry all kinds of photos of you, candid shots, tuxedo, tails, anything I can find. Some of your old night club pictures. I am going to send to Dorie Sherry. In the meanwhile, ask the Australian Broad casting Commission to let you make a recording of ‘Old Man River'." So, they gave me a technician and a studio, and I went in and sat at the piano and sang and played for myself, and recorded ‘Old Man River', which they then sent to New York to Dorie Sherry, saying this is the young man, William Warfield, who is touring for us in here Australia with tremendous... they sent a nice letter... big success and so on and so forth. In the meanwhile, the morning that Arthur Freed was going to go in and have a conference with Dorie Sherry on several other things having to do with the production of Showboat, a man named Peter Herman Adler, who was then directing in NBC Opera, was out there and they were interviewing him on the radio about some new people coming up, and so on and so forth, and Oscar Levant was listening to this interview. This is very complicated (laughter)…

RW: Good old Oscar Levant

WW: ... and Oscar Levant was a close friend of Arthur Freed.

JB: What a network.

RW: What a character!

WW: Well, when he said, there's a young black man named William Warfield,    he picks up the telephone, he says, "Arthur, look, I am just hearing Peter Herman Adler on this interview. There's a young guy named William Warfield who's supposed to be a very good, black guy... You ought to look into that." Arthur wrote the name down. He walks into Dorie Sherry's office and Dorie says, "Look, I got these pictures of a guy named William Warfield, oh Oscar just called me about him, and here's a recording." The three of them sat down, listened to me and looked at the pictures, and I was... they signed me in New York, and my manager cabled that I had been signed to do Showboat. "Old Man River" and Showboat.

JB: Amazing the way things come together at a point, all at once.

WW: Just "boom" like that. It all happened by my reading Hedda Hopper's column and I said, "Well, maybe we ought to do something about this." So, that's it. Just a little afterthought about that, I was on the set and the people would come up to me and ask me all of these questions about the platypuses, the koala bears, the kangaroos and (laughter)

RW: Oh because you'd been to Australia!

WW: …now wait, you are really going to laugh when you find out why. And so, I was having great fun telling them all about this and it was... and where did you?... and I told them about going to the zoo and they putting a python in my hand, to take pictures, and I was standing there scared, and how amazed I was to find that it wasn't cold at all, it wasn't clammy, it wasn't cold. I can see a picture of a snake and I cringe, and all of a sudden I am standing there with all these cameras on me. "Hold this python," and Oh! there I am holding a python, you know. And he said, "Just hold it this way, it won't do anything."

RW: It won't do you any harm…

WW: And I had a little koala. Well, then one of the fellows asked me, well now he says, "Is the racial situation... do you have really a problem out there as a native?" And it dawned on me...

JB: As a native? (laughter)

WW: ...  they all thought…

RW: That you were a Maori?

WW: …that I was an Aborigine from Australia and when I told them, "Oh no, I was born in Arkansas," they were totally disappointed. Word had gotten around that MGM had imported an Aborigine from Australia to do the role of Joe in Showboat (laughter). I just screamed with laughter, and I said, that's why they're asking me all these questions, they thought I was native.

RW: That's why they're asking you all these questions, isn't that interesting.,

JB: Oh my goodness, that's terrific.  

JB: You said one thing in your book that I thought was marvelous. You spoke of the succession, the influential relationships between teachers and students as kind of an apostolic succession. That phrase really moved me.

WW: Well, being the son of a Baptist minister, I mean, and sort of being raised in the church, and I sometimes will use expressions that, for instance, that are sort of church terms, I'm not even going to say religious... church terms that are, for instance, being "called to the ministry." My father felt that that was a calling, and I felt the same way about music. I think our individual talents are our calling and we are bound to do something about that. It is not given to us, we are not called to this thing to just sit there and do nothing with it. It becomes our job then to do that, and I refer to the parable about the talents, the one guy had one, two, and the other had, and one invested and got twice as many, and the other got twice, and the other went and hid his to protect it, and then when he came they said, "Depart from me, I know you not, you didn't do anything with what I gave you," the master. I use that a lot with my students and so... Well, to get back to the question, then there was a thing called, ''The laying on of the hands," that we referred to. And I felt that all of us in the tradition of how music is, it's a craft, and if you look through history, all of the great people that have become great, have been great because the master, their master, has laid hands on them and passed it down.

RW: Exactly.

JB: Yes, yes.

WW: You can go and study all you want, but if there is not somebody there that says, "No, son, this is the way you do it," in our craft we're lost, aren't we? It has to be passed on, and that's what I felt about student/ teacher relationships and I mentioned that... oh Lord, do I ever love the adulation and the applause, and so on and so forth, and it's wonderful to have people say bravo, and this and that. But that only…

RW: That's a very momentary thing…

WW: …momentary and selfish.  When I started teaching and then sat in the first, in the audience listening to students give me back things that I had given them, there is a kind of fulfillment in that, that supersedes anything you can do in life. That is my contribution, not the fact that I sang well, but that I am teaching and passing this on for others to do, too.

JB: Well, I thought that reference in the book was particularly poignant and wonderful. Having had some background in music and singing and teachers, I am just wondering, who were some of the people at Eastman that were influential in your life?

WW: Well, of course, Arthur Kraft was. He was my voice teacher, as such; and Dr. Hanson, of course. I, from the very beginning, felt Dr. Hanson was somebody I could go to, and I would go to him and talk, not necessarily… or he would see me in the corridor and stop, and there was a kind of an interest in a family thing at the Eastman then, as Ruth can tell you.

RW: Yes, yes, I hope it still exists. But, anyhow, during that time, I was introduced also to Herman Genhart[5]. Well, he…

RW: He was something else

WW: …to me was the experience and...

JB: He was famous, or notorious, as the case may be. He was wonderful, yes.

RW: He was the most wonderful musician.

WW: I learned more from that man about music …

RW: Exactly.

WW: …and what a musician was than anybody I can recall. I mean, of course, my teachers taught me, but there was an inherent thing about Genhart that, for instance, a simple little thing if I can quote, for instance, just on the musicianship of ritard and rubato and stuff like that. I think I was doing the Apres un reve and at the end of the Apres un reve there's (sings), and then the accompanist continues on, but after you get back to the retard. Now he could have told me, "No," he says, "If you start retarding here... " He could have told me this. He didn't. Then it becomes very unmusical, because in retarding it is gradually getting slower. So, but what he let me do, he let me say, (sings) and then when I hit that he went uh uh uh (slowly), on the piano, and I ran out of breath. And I looked at him and he says, "That's what you started, I had to continue." See what I am saying, Ruth.

JB: It's a wonderful demonstration, yes.

WW: Let me do it, and then show me how that is not musical.

RW: Herman Genhart was probably the greatest musician…

WW: Oh yes, yes.

RW: …whom we have ever had on the faculty. This is not to take away from any of other members of the faculty, but Herman Genhart really had something there. And, you know, his best students carried that with them.

WW: Oh sure, of course.

JB: I remember singing in both opera and choral works under Herman, and also, there were people, I'm thinking, Mac Morgan, and...

WW: Oh, Mac and Art Stouffers (?), he's in Atlanta, retired in Atlanta now. And Helen…, and they have five girls, all red-heads. (Laughter)

RW: That's right.

JB: Several years ago I did an Elijah with Mac Morgan and Mac had his score and he said, look at, he said, I have this as the score I had, and these are the notes from Herman Genhart from the coaching...

WW: Yeah, yeah, we did the same way with him. I was...

RW: Well, Mari still swears by Herman Genhart.

WW: Oh yes, oh yes. The first experience I had with him, of course, was the choir, you know, we all had to take chorus.

RW: Everyone took chorus.

JB: Pianists and singers had to take chorus, right?

RW: Everyone, everyone.

WW: Yeah, and we were doing, "In these delightful pleasant groves, let us celebrate, let us celebrate, let us celebrate, our happy... (singing)" He stopped, he says, "Ees thees a market? Ees thees a market? I hear all this talk about lettuce. Are you selling lettuce today? And I looked at him... let us, oh yeah. It was my first lesson in diction was from Herman Genhart. You didn't forget those kind of lessons, did you?

RW: No, you don't. It's amazing, because it is all these little things that he used to say that all of his students remembered for the rest of their lives. I wonder how many teachers these days have that kind of effect upon their students? Not a great many of them. And any way, we were more naive as students.  

WW: Yeah, that's true.

RW: We were much more open-minded and we had tremendous respect for our teachers. You know, we were taught at home, you have to listen to your teachers, they have something to tell you. But these students these days are terribly independent. They are probably smarter than we were.

WW: I was going to say that, Ruth. Now, if you go back to when we were freshman, say in college, most singers, they called them the singers and the musicians, and it was absolutely true.

JB: Some distinguish further by saying tenors.

WW: … Some of the great singers couldn't even read notes, I mean, great opera... Pinza never knew how to read notes, for instance, and one of the great basses at the Met. Nowadays, these youngsters come to you with piano, violin, the singers, I mean, come to you with piano, violin... I had a young soprano who was playing violin in the orchestra, you know, and could play piano, and so, that I think, makes them a little more independent of just depending on you for every word, while we just hung on to every word our professors would say. These youngsters will challenge you. I had a student, I told a student something once and he said, "Are you sure?" I looked at him and said, "Of course, I am sure." (Laughter) And that is good to a certain extent, too.

RW: Well, it is good to be challenged by a student because it certainly makes you keep up with what you're supposed to be doing.

WW: Well, let me tell you an experience that I had when I first started teaching at the University of Illinois. And if they were working on literature that I knew, I would sort of, the piano was here, stand at the window and look at them, listen to them, and so on and so forth, and this student did something and I said, "Uh-huh, no, no, no, no, that's wrong, that's wrong." And I walked over and I looked, and he was absolutely right. I had been making that mistake for years, and didn't know I had made it. Isn't that amazing, it was a little thing and I said, my goodness. So, every time after that if I was out, I would saunter over to the piano and look to make sure that I hadn't learned it wrong. And then I said wait a minute let's go back. Teaching really teaches you.

RW: Now, when did you begin teaching?

WW: In 1974. I went to the..., and taught for 16 years, became the chairman of the voice division and retired in 1990, because in Illinois, even now, next year it's going to be changed in 1993, the ruling is anybody in state institutions had to retire at 70. And I was 70 in 1990, so I finished that. I will be 73 coming up January.

RW: Maybe you'll hop back in again?

WW: No, no, no, no. I am just having a wonderful life now because, not only am I involved in performing, but I am involved in going to schools and working, like doing a recital or a performance or a symphony orchestra, or a band or whatever, and usually before... , while I am on the campus they ask me either the day after to conduct master class or things like that. So a great deal..., but this next semester coming up in January 1993, I have agreed to be visiting professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Isn't that a nice place to be in January? And I am going to be there doing one master class a week and working, coaching, talented graduate students in song literature. And I will be on the campus about two days a week, and then I am going to do some performing while I am there as well as participating there in the Spring. They are having a Porgy, they're having a Gershwin night, and they have corralled me into performing some Porgy and Bess for that. So, I am looking forward to that.

RW: Now, how did you happen to land up in Urbana to teach?

WW: Well, I tell you, I started doing Porgy and Bess at the Volksoper in Vienna in 1965, and that ran until, oh, about 1973. Well, I am getting ahead of myself. Then we added to that, Showboat, in German. Porgy and Bess was in English, but we did Showboat in German.

RW: Showboat auf deutsch, my goodness, oh my goodness!

WW: And then we did that in repertory, which meant that I was three months of the year, I was in Vienna. I became, oh, I was at the Nosh Markt and became a regular shopper and the whole thing. In fact, I remember coming back to New York and went out the first thing and was looking for green peas, and I was looking all over the place, all over the place, and couldn't find any green peas. And I realized that in my mind I was thinking grune bohnen and I couldn't see grune bohnen. And I said, "Oh, my goodness!" You know how your mind plays tricks on you? Well, so, then on the..., '73 I came back and in that spring, John Woosman who was down there in the accompanying program called me and said, "You know, they need a voice professor down here. Aren't you tired of traipsing all over the world?" I said, "Well, John, you know, as a matter of fact, now that I am not going to be away three months of the year, I might be interested." Well, to make a long story short, I went down, we talked, and I met the faculty and I said, "Okay." They said, ''Now, we don't want you, of course, to stop performing, we just want a certain amount of time a week and you can arrange your schedule the way you want to, because it is mostly private teaching and by doing that you can...  the studio...  flexible." They wanted..., and most of the universities now want professors who are performing out in the field...  

RW: Now that's a great improvement, believe me

WW: .... because it's what they teach the youngsters is coming from the horse's mouth. They know what Jan[6], here, for instance, and Seth[7] and all of these people, I mean, when they say something, bet your boots they are telling you what works. And so, that's what most of the...  well, they started that years ago as..... Janos Starker did it at Indiana, and he was just called a visiting, he just went in for a few times then they decided "Well, maybe we ought to expand this and have them actually on the faculty." So, most universities do that now. So, I went then and started working and teaching and performing, and it was just a perfect combination. I really enjoyed it. But let me get back to...  I like to tell you this because everybody cracks up. The German of "Old Man River"... (sings Old Man River in German).

WW: Now, let me tell you a story on that. We did that…

RW: That's good, that's a very good translation.

WW: Marcel Prawy was the one who was...  but the Vienna public, every time they would come back, they would say, "Why do you sing that in German, we all know it in English." They would actually complain to Marcel Prawy. So the third season he said, "Well, listen, when you step down, just sing "Old Man River" in English and step back up and start, resume with German." We did it that way and they loved it.

RW: They loved it.

JB: Amazing.

WW: So... , the last two years that I did it we sang "Old Man River," the first version, in English and then later on when it was repeated with the group it was German. But isn't that interesting? The Viennese public didn't want it in German.

RW: Isn't that something? I wonder how many other languages that could be  translated into?... Like they did My Fair Lady in Japanese and such... you know?

WW: Oh, I am sure. Well, Marcel Prawy... Actually, we date back... Marcel came to the United States during the War, and was in the service and got his citizenship, so he holds dual citizenship, and that's... , talking about things intertwining. I first met Marcel Prawy at Camp Ritchie, when he was there in the service, and then years later in 1965. That would have been 20 years later, he brought me to Vienna to do Porgy and Bess and Showboat in German. But I had met him years before when he was in this country.

JB: In your book, in your experiences at Camp Ritchie, you came... there was a number of people who came together who interwove in each others' lives later on, also. It's amazing.

WW: Yeah, this is very much so. Gyorgy Sandor, for instance, was a pianist. He was at Camp Ritchie when I was. There was Francis, oh, was a big music critic at the time and years later, I think it was the Tribune...  Perkins, does that name strike…

RW: Yeah, Perkins.

WW: ... yeah, he was there, also. People of that caliber.

JB: And all of this was to bring people together for dramatizations to help intelligence efforts for World War II.  

WW: No, they were there studying for various...  see, it was a military intelligence  training school.

JB: Right.

WW: Now, what we actually did, we sent out teams with three officers and four enlisted men who were able to go to the, I think, division headquarter level, and they covered interrogation of prisoners of war, interpretations like terrain intelligence, sea, counter-espionage, the whole thing. On that team, they were the team, then we trained them for that. Now, while they were there, then, of course, I was in charge of the theater, the training theater. And my work working with that was scheduled, as well as... and then music came as an added thing through the thing, because I was there on the post as a musician. But I was brought there to be sent out in a team because of my languages, and what happened was that, Colonel Banfield was his name, he came by and he says, well, it was just sort of getting set, he says, ''No, I am going to make you a part of the cadre, because I'd like you here in addition to your duties, then we have somebody that can handle music and stuff. We put on chamber concerts, this was all in addition to the work

JB: Oh, yes, yes, I realize that... so all of these wonderful performers…

WW: So, that's how we got all these wonderful people who came by the same way that I came, to be sent out and they were sent out in various teams and stuff.

RW: How many languages have you ended up by…knowing?

WW: Well, before I went there, French, German and Italian. And then I never really learned to speak any of the other languages. What I did, was, for instance, when I wanted to do things in Russian, I started working with a Russian, Chichagov, Igor Chichagov, who is still connected with the Rosa Ponselle Foundation, and we started working on the language itself. I learned Cyrillics, I learned how to pronounce, and all of this, and vocabulary, and all of that stuff. And then I began learning literature in the language. The Boris Godunov scenes, "Songs and Dances of Death," Mussorgsky, and all of these things, but I did all of that pre-work on the language before. Same way with Hungarian, Dr. Hertz was Hungarian and he groomed me on Hungarian before I even started to try to do Hungarian songs. And that all went back to high school and Elsa Miller. I started studying voice with Elsa Miller, and I wanted in the worst way, to sing the Tchaikovsky "None But The Lonely Heart" in German...  Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt Weiß, was ich leide... and Miss Miller says, ''Nope. I'll tell you what. You register and take German next year, and in your second semester I will let you sing. I don't want you singing anything that you don't know what you are singing. You got to understand. It's not just the matter of repeating the words." So, I started studying German, and then she let me tackle German the next year. And, as a result of that, by the time I was a senior, I told you, I won a competition in reciting German poetry. It works, and right now, I am sure your curriculum, too, we require at the University, so does the Eastman, that the singers have language background and diction. That's how I met Miss Cummins, and Mrs. Kneisel. We had to have diction and stuff to know what we were doing. And that works, it really works. But to answer your question, I do Russian, Spanish, of course, that's easy, in addition to those three, and Hungarian, and, of course, Latin and Hebrew, but we learned that. As a matter of fact, I learned my Hebrew right here as a student. I was a member of the double quartet at the Temple B'rith Kodesh that used to be right across the street, now they are out...  and Rabbi Bernstein was his name…

JB: Yes, Philip Bernstein.

WW: …and I started learning Hebrew then, and the liturgy and the whole thing and as a matter of fact, when I came back, working on master's degree here, the church, the Temple was already there, and he called me and says, "I want you to come in, and we have the indoctrination of the new members, and I want you to come in and sing the chants and teach them... " and I was out there singing (in Hebrew) teaching the new congregation how to pronounce the Hebrew for the services. And, of course, Latin I started in high school.

JB: How did you find Hungarian? Hungarian, I know, and Finnish are related, but they are sort of unrelated to any other languages.

WW: Hungarian is the only completely phonetic language. By that, when I say that I mean this: the accent is always on the second syllable, I think, I've got to think now what he taught me, and it is always... , consonants, vowels are always pronounced the same. And it never has an exception, whereas, French... We took one semester to learn all the rules and then the second semester to learn the exceptions. And so, if you know what the rules are for pronunciation of Hungarian, you can read a Hungarian paper absolutely correct, and not understand one word you are saying.

JB: I've played soccer with a bunch of Hungarians and I find it a fascinating language.

WW: And you could read it and they would know exactly what you are saying but because the accent always falls the same and the pronunciation is the same and there is no exception. That is why it is called completely phonetic. So, I found it very easy, especially with Dr...  we did some Kodaly songs in Hungarian, and he taught me a few expressions and every once in a while if I'm around somebody Hungarian I throw out...  ''Where did you learn that?" I said, "It's Dr. Hertz." (Laughter)

RW: What do you know about Finnish?

WW: I don't know anything about Finnish.

RW: Well, Finnish is an interesting language, too.

WW: But that belongs to the Eastern languages, doesn't it?

JB: Finnish and Hungarian are related,

RW: Are more or less related…

JB: …but unconnected with other languages.

WW: Yeah, that's right, I knew that, too…

RW: Because they are not a Scandinavian language. But it is a very interesting thing, though. If you know Japanese you can always pronounce Finnish. It's almost exactly the same. Composers, Madetoja for example, that's the way Japanese would pronounce Madetoja. That's one of those things. There is some kind of an oriental background there. It is very, very interesting. Wouldn't it be fun to study all these different languages? Oh my goodness.

WW: I find languages very, very fascinating. I am linguistic, but that has nothing to do with talent. You either are or you're not. Your ear hears and you can repeat. It's like absolute pitch. You don't ask for it, if you got it you got it, you know. So, that's not bragging to say one is linguistic, it's just that if somebody says something to me I can listen and repeat it. Also, with accents. As a matter of fact, I have to be very careful when I am away for a while. When I was away for three months in Australia... , and although I didn't take on a British accent, I took on an intonation. For instance, I had an accompanist, his name was John Douglas Todd, and everybody called him John Douglas Todd, John Douglas Todd (spoken with accent), not John Douglas Todd (spoken with emphasis on "o"), you know, like we s ay. And I am back in New York and on Broadway, so I say, "Oh, John," (with British accent) and he says, "Oh, my, my aren't we British!" And I didn't even realize that I was saying "John" (with accent) instead of John, you know. Little things like that. It was just in my ear, you know.

JB: You learn something more than G'day. (Laughter)

WW: Oh, yeah, I can do a really good Australian accent. "Ay mate, aw righty...  " I want to tell you one of the funniest things that happened to me was the first time I was in Wollongong and they said, "Do you like Chinese food?" I said, "Yes, yes." We got to this Chinese restaurant, the fellow, he was Chinese and he said, "Marvelous, this authentic Chinese restaurant, we will go for there for lunch." I walked in there, and being typical American, I said, "Hello," and expecting some semblance of a Chinese accent, and he said, "Ay mate, sit down mate" (spoken with Australian accent)...  and I thought I would...  I never expected an Australian accent that heavy to come out of a Chinese face. (Laughter)

JB: The surprises in life.

WW: And I just chuckled, you know.

RW: Well, tell us about some of your students whom you had at the University of Illinois.

WW: Well, there are several…. The two that I have had that you would know of right now; others are coming up, you will hear of them later on, that I worked with in my oratorio class. I had an oratorio class and I worked with youngsters in oratorio. Gerry Hadley, who is now beginning to, one of the young upcoming tenors, and Erie Mills, the soprano. They were two of my children at the...  there are a couple of other baritones coming on the scene. You will not have heard, one was named Ivan Thomas and he has been doing things around Europe, and I think you are going to hear from him, and there is another youngster coming up that I actually taught voice to. He is now in New York and doing his thing, you know. Knocking on those doors, as it goes, and trying to make things happen. As a matter of fact, and his name is Lawrence Craig, and several others around New York still. It takes a little time, let's see, by the time they finish, usually they are master's students there, and say, project after they leave there, going through that whole process of summer festivals and schools like the Opera, Lyric Opera and Houston, Texas, and Santa Fe, and all of these grooming things. Even Miami Opera has the apprentice school is attached to them, and they end up in their late twenties or early thirties then "on the scene," trying to knock those doors down, entering big competitions and thing s like that. So, probably a full ten years, say, after they have left their master's work is when you start looking around and say, "Ah, they are coming out now, they are emerging," you know. It takes that amount of time.

JB: Who do you remember from your days at Eastman from among your fellow students here; contemporaries... Were there some particular friends or people that you remember who have sort of gone in parallel careers?

WW: Several people, for instance, one of them, Peter Mennin, for instance, who became Juilliard head; Gid Waldrup, who was a master, he was a doctoral student when I was doing master's work here. He was from Texas, he has been in New York now, I think he is at Manhattan, isn't he?

RW: He is at Manhattan now.

WW: Krachmalnick, who was...  

JB: Sam Krachmalnick, the conductor.

WW: …and he was at one time was, his brother, was concertmaster at Philadelphia Orchestra, we all were in that...  

JB: Sam was a conductor with the New York, with the Metropolitan travelling company, the National Company.   

WW: Peter Mennin, Vincent... and he never changed, Minnelli, right, the one that stayed here...

RW: Lou Mennini,

WW: Mennini… remained Mennini and his brother changed and took the "ini" off and just Peter Mennin, that was the one that was...  and I am sure there are more, even Leonard Bernstein, but he was here for a short period just before I got here. Ulysses Kay, the composer. There was a man who died in an air crash, great bass, Kenneth Spencer.

RW: Kenny Spencer, my goodness, yes.

WW: …was an upper classmate of mine...  

RW: Kenny Spencer went to Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles, and that was where I went to school, and he was a senior when I was a freshman.

WW: ... and all across the country, I am an Eastmanite, you know, and we would compare our notes to see...  

JB: Was Mac here when you were


: ... Mac was an upper classmate of mine, Mac and Helen, he was an upper classmate, and he was studying with Arthur Kraft, Uncle Arthur... , Oh Lord, there are others, they just don't come to mind at that moment.

RW: Well, so much has happened since, my goodness.

WW: lllustrious group...  

RW: What about your concerts with Mari?

WW: Oh, you know, I saw Mari Taniguchi, we were together, I was a judge, an ajudicator for the Rosa Ponselle about three years ago and she had students that competed in that, and I got a chance to see her and it was great. Hellos and hugs and kisses and things. She was quite a coloratura soprano herself, as well as a fabulous pianist, and she has since become quite a teacher, you know. Dorothy Ornest, do you remember the Ornests? Naomi and Dorothy Ornest? They were up in New England somewhere, too, teaching. I think Dorothy is retired now.

RW: Dorothy is retired and her son came here to school. Naomi, her sister, I don't remember where she was.

WW: She did more, stayed into performing more.

RW: Yeah, she stayed into performing, but Dorothy went into teaching.

WW: Teaching, yeah, and she was in, Amherst was it where she was? Somewhere up there teaching and very...  

RW: They contributed a lot to scholarships and things like that.

WW: Yeah, yeah, they sure did.

RW: Well, tell me about what you have been doing here in Rochester when you got back?

WW: Well, this is Christmas time for me. I am always here with the family at Christmas time. I have nieces and nephews. The latest arrival was two weeks ago, a great-nephew, and his name is Dillon. I don't know where they got Dillon. His father is Charles, but they named him Dillon Charles Warfield, and I haven't seen him yet, I just got here. They are bringing him over to visit. So, he is only two weeks old and I called up my nephew last night and he answered the phone and I said, "Hello, can I speak to Dillon please? I hear he is walking and talking (in disguised voice). My nephew just cracked up. (Laughter)

JB: One thing that you might not be aware of, but when you received your honorary doctorate back in 1988, I was on the platform at that time, doing my platform duties at Commencement, intoning the names of the doctoral candidates and the like.

RW: Intoning is right!

JB: Having been a part of Commencement for well over 20 years on the platform, I was impressed with the reaction of the undergraduates to your response to the awarding of the degree. I have heard Commencement speakers, you know, more than I can possibly remember, and I have heard reactions, and I have had close connections with students because I did serve as an advisor, both at undergraduate and graduate levels, but the responses, after the fact, to your words at Commencement were moving. You made a number of students remember their Commencement in ways that others don't. Your remarks, I thought, were so apropos of what education is all about and what character is all about.

WW: What I tried to do with that, I mean, I came up with "Commencement, then what?," I think, and that's what I talked... And what I did, they said, when they said, "You know, just tell them about your life and your experiences and so on and so forth. It doesn't have to be, let's say, about a 15-minute speech." But what I tried to do was go back and tell about my educational experience, and tie that specifically into what happened to me and my career and trace back, that started back here, and then what. Even dancing. I took dancing in high school and learned how to tap, and so on, and so forth, I said, and the first thing they threw at me when I got to Broadway, I had to jump in and do a dance routine. And that's something I learned extra in high school, and everything that I..., was extra things that I have done and I think that is why it impressed them because they could see, you know, where it would tie in later on, you know.

JB: There is a genuineness there, and I think you also reflected something, this was my feeling, that you reflected something of the apostolic succession in the influence of teachers and people.

WW: Oh, yeah, yeah, that is so important.

RW: Do you remember McHose always used to say…

WW: Oh, McHose – yes…

RW: ''Teacher-pupil-lineage."

WW: Yes, that's right, that's right.

RW: And he would talk about the teacher-pupil-lineage. And, you know, once you become aware of that, one thing leads to another. It's amazing.

WW: And that was also the one thing that was so marvelous about Dr. Genhart because he was stern...  "boom, boom, boom"...  and that scared a lot of students. But, if he saw that you were paying attention to him, nobody could be more patient than he, and the more you absorbed, the more he'd give you. After I got to know him, I could even tease him and he would just laugh and giggle and things like that, you know, and he wasn't this "straight, stern "guy that you couldn't approach at all. He was a wonderful human being, but he had no time for anybody that was not serious in what they were doing.   

JB: He had no time for mediocrity.

WW: Mediocrity, that's exactly it. Oh, that reminds me, I have to pass this on to you. There was supposedly this conductor who was just..., none of the men in the orchestra..., he was just sort of a..., nobody liked him. He was just one of those kind of a people, and one night he came in, "Hello," and he shook the hands of the concert master, and smiled at everybody and the concertmaster, the fellow next to him says, "What got into him tonight?" He says, "Oh, he's having delusions of adequacy." (Laughter)

RW: Oh, that's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful...  

WW: Delusions of adequacy…

RW: You know, one of the things that have always impressed me about Dr. Genhart was his presence of mind. When the ceiling fell, in the Eastman Theatre, they were rehearsing for a concert, the chorus was on stage, and Herman was up there conducting. There had been a few people in the Eastman Theatre listening to the rehearsal, but they had left, and all of a sudden, a portion of the ceiling fell. It went crashing down on the seat just about where the people had been sitting and the students who were in the chorus said Herman just looked back like this and he kept right on going, right on going, right on going. And they could see the ceiling fall and they said it was so slow in falling. But, of course, he kept them singing, and it was a good thing he was such a stern taskmaster, because nobody dared to stop singing. So, they kept on singing, and they kept on singing, and finally, when the dust settled, he looked around and that was it. No one was hurt. (Laughter)

WW: No panic, no panic.   

RW: No panic, no panic. And you know, he was one of the greatest teachers that we have ever had around here.

WW: Oh, I remember an anecdote having to do with Miss Cummins. As you know, Miss Cummins, she was very proper and…

RW: "Oh, yes, my dear!" (mimicking voice of Miss Cummins)

WW: …and I used to like to tease her because she would note sometimes afterwards that I was teasing, you know, and she would smile... , and I remember once I decided that I wanted to tease her a bit, and we were working on grammar and I decided to ask her would she please define when you had to say "vous" and "tu", the familiar term and the formal term. And so, she said, 'Well, Mr. Warfield," she says...  and to make a long story short for our viewers, ‘tu' is very intimate in French. If you say ‘tu,' that is like family or your lover or your wife. And I knew this, but I just wanted to tease her, and she says, "But now, you always say vous'," and she explained it all to me. It was just the class situation, the kids all knew what I was doing. And then she explained how when you could use 'tu,' and so I looked at her very seriously, I said, 'Well, can I ever get to know you well enough to say 'tu'? She says, "Oh, no, Mr. Warfield, oh no, goodness!" (Laughter) And we all just...  and then she realized...  That was paramount to, you know what I mean...  and she just... "Oh, no, Mr. Warfield."

JB: I can just see her reacting that way.

RW: There are so many Miss Cummins stories, I must collect them sometime. Giles Hobin and Cliff Snyder were two students in her class, and they were always coming in late, and remember how she used to say, "Oh, my dear we'll have to close the door," and she would close the door. One day, she'd closed the door, and Giles and Cliff were late. So they said, "You know, we really have got to do something." So, they go across the street and they bought a rose, and they came back and rapped at the door, and Miss Cummins came to the door and she said, "The door has been closed." They stepped in, and they sang, "Only a rose..." (Laughter)... and so she had to let them in.

WW: Well, I had, I took Conversation French with her too, you know, and as I said, French was easy for me, and we would have to read this, and then she would ask us and we would converse back to her whatever this chapter was. And I would run in there and (skim through) and then I was ready. And I hadn't studied it, you know, at all. I hadn't even read it most of the time. And she caught on to me one day, and I ran and I was just about to sit and she said, "Close your books." Then she asked me this question and I answered in French but I hemmed and hawed and obviously I had not read that chapter at all. So, she said, "Mr. Warfield," she said in English, "I would rather have someone with little talent in my class who was willing to work, than someone with a tremendous amount of talent and did no work. Now, will so and so please... " Oh, boy, she put me in my place.

JB: She laid it on you.
WW: I never went in there…if I had to stand in the corridor before, I would make sure I knew what was in that chapter before I went in. Boy, she really caught me that morning.

RW: She was something else.

WW: Well, what are your plans for now and later?

WW: I am doing this, as I said, Visiting Professor next.... but in addition to that I am doing a lot of performing. A lot of narrations. Since I won the Grammy for the "Lincoln Portrait", every time someone has a narration, they call on me. So, I am doing, not only the Schwantner, which was on the other side of the record, I am doing many performances of that with orchestras. There are about two or three other narrations having to do with Martin Luther King including the Elie Siegmeister he has the words, "I have a dream," too. I am doing that this season. I am doing several recitals. I do a folk song… well, what you would call Old American Songs and Spirituals Re cital in which I do Sea Shanties, chain gang songs, spirituals, some other Aaron Copland Old American Songs and a whole Johnson group. That's the recital program I do. I phased out a lot of the heavy, heavy singing. At 72 I don't exactly want to get up there and do the four scenes of Boris, and all the F­ sharps and things... But, ordinary things...  and I made a recording of Spirituals. I never made a recording of Spirituals, so I have done a recording of Spirituals that is going to come out in the spring, and this year, for the first time, I did the speaker in the Oedipus Rex of Stravinsky. I did three performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Philadelphia and one at Carnegie Hall, and that was a nice experience, I enjoyed doing. In English, of course. I would love to do it in French too, but in this country we always usually do it in English, and I enjoyed doing that.

JB: I guess we don't need to ask you what you are doing in your spare time?

WW: My spare time? I love to cook…

RW: Do you really? How about that!

WW: …and usually whenever I am home, I get a telephone call around noon. ''Uncle Bill, are you cooking tonight?" "Well, yes." "Can I come?" The phone would ring again, ''Uncle Bill, I hear you're cooking tonight. Can I come?"

JB: The word gets around.

WW: By the time evening comes, I have six to eight students at my house, and I know they are going to be there, so I cook enough. That is my...  cooking was always, for me, a method of learning music. For instance, I would have a lot of music to learn. I would get my music out, work it, go put something on, cook, work, back from the stove to the thing. By the time I finished cooking, I had also done a great deal of practicing.

JB: That's interesting. You mentioned in your book that even when you were first living in New York that you used to cook in the apartment and in the hotels where you lived, and that was one of the things that you enjoyed and that other people necessarily didn't, but you did.

WW: Yeah, in fact, it was very funny because I was in a hotel called the Hotel America, it was West 47th Street, and there were several actors and me that were coming up at that time including Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte... , we were all in that group that were in the late 40's and early 50's, making our way. And I used to go out on the... Well, I have a hot plate that I kept up in the cabinet, and I would go out on 9th Avenue and buy all these things like ham hocks and beans and black-eyed peas and stuff, then I would come and make this big pot, then we'd all sit on the bed and eat and stuff like that. Then, I got an apartment across the place, there was a hotel that had household apartments. I actually had a stove and a Frigidaire and stuff and then I was really independent. I was down on 9th Avenue in the morning, I even got a little spinet piano put in the apartment, and I would practice and cook, and practice and cook, go out and perform, practice and cook.

JB: An interesting combination.

RW: A real good combination.

WW: And I was very happy doing that. It was very fun.

RW: I don't know why I am thinking of this, but once when I was in New York for a Music Library Association meeting… remember that hotel on the corner or across from Lincoln Center.

WW: Empire Hotel, yes.

RW: Remember the Empire Hotel? I guess it's still there.

JB: It's still there, I've stayed there in recent times. It's been renovated a couple of times, yeah.)

RW: When we would go for meetings the people at the meetings would say, "Oh, are you staying at that flea bag?" And so, we were all staying at the Empire.

JB: The last time I was there, a few years ago, it was being renovated at that point...  

RW: I haven't been there since it was renovated.

JB: But it is a handy place right there with Lincoln Center.

RW: Once I was having supper there after having just gotten to New York for one of these meetings, and who should I see but that gentleman right there. You were singing at the theatre. Now wait a minute, which theatre were you singing at? I don't remember what you were doing but you were there.

WW: Probably something in Lincoln Center.

RW: No, it wasn't Lincoln Center.

WW: Yes, as a matter of fact, were you with...  there was a time when someone came with Miss Cummins to New York, and I took to the Sardi's restaurant. Were you on that trip?

RW: No, it was not I. I don't remember who that was.

WW: The reason I took her to Sardi's was because, of course, anybody might have shown up, stars and whatnot. So, it so happened that we had lunch and not one movie star showed up at that particular time. And so, I was out, and I was about to hail a cab, and the cab pulled up and this gentlemen said, 'Pardon me, madam,'" and stepped and opened the door and it was Gary Cooper, and Miss Cummins said, "Oh, thank you!" She was so ecstatic, Gary Cooper was standing behind us. So, I said, "Thank God, somebody showed up."

JB: Well, that was a real hangout. There used to be a program on the radio, I can remember, (singing) "We just finished breakfast at Sardi's..."

WW: In fact, I was on one of those later on in my career, before they went off. Luncheon at Sardi's, I was on lunch, lunch, lunch, I don't know if it's the same...  

RW: Once, Miss Cummins said that you took her to a coaching lesson that you had with Yves Tinayre.

WW: Aha, yes.

RW: That was a high point of her visit.

WW: Yes, because we did all French stuff. I think I was doing the La bonne chanson, Faure, on the poems of Paul Verlaine, and afterwards I said, "How was my French?" She said, "Oh, Mr. Warfield, it was excellent, it was excellent!" ''My pronunciation…" I said … She was so proud of me, because she taught me French diction.

RW: She very thrilled about that. She lived vicariously through so many of her students. It was wonderful, really wonderful.

WW: We used to, the one thing, we used be -- so sympathetic with her. She used get these great migraines, and once that migraine headache came on...  It's wonderful now, they have got a lot of new ways now to... but in those days, I mean, you just suffered, you know.

RW: She was the most tense person I ever saw.

WW: ...and a vegetarian)...

RW: and people used to tease her and say "now if she would have a nice big slab of beef steak..."

WW: I know, we used to say that....  "Oh, no, it would poison my system, I haven't had meat for years."

JB: I remember much of her because when I was the registrar here we had a wonderful relationship, she was such a wonderful teacher

WW: …and with Jessie Kneisel, too. We used to go out to her house for parties once a year...

RW: Oh, I remember a party when you mustered out of the service...

WW: I hypnotized somebody...

RW: .... you were going to hypnotize Karl, and you had this watch and you were dangling it in front of Karl, and you were going on and on like this, and Norma Bess Holmes was...  

WW: Oh, that's right, and she went out.

RW: ... and she went out. There were a whole bunch of us there. There was Ed Easley over here, and Norma Bess was right here, and I was sitting here and you were trying to hypnotize Karl, and Jessie was over here, and I have forgotten who else was there.

WW: Yeah, there was somebody else, too. Was it John LeMontaine?

RW: No, it wasn't John...  but anyhow he was saying, "Now you are getting very drowsy... ," and everything, and here's Karl, he's sitting there and he is laughing, and all of a sudden, Norma Bess was out. She was really out like a light. Remember that?

WW: Yeah, and I said, "Now you're in Berlin," and she started speaking German to me. It was very interesting.

RW: Yeah, and then you told her that she was playing in a concert, so she went through the motions of playing in a concert, and then you asked her, "auf Deutsch?"; what it was like, and she answered in German that it was very very cold.

WW: Isn't that amazing? She remembers it all. I remember doing it but I don't remember the specifics.

JB: It had to be a very dramatic occasion.  

WW: It was something that I had become all of a sudden interested in because, I mean, I had become aware that hypnosis was a science, that it could work, and I always wanted to try to practice it, you know, and see what it...  and so, when I said it to Mrs. Kneisel, I said, ''Well, let's try it, let's try it!" Everybody was all for trying it.

RW: I wish I could remember who else was there. It was very, very interesting...  and there she was, she was going...  and Bill said, "Oh, my goodness !"

WW: I was as surprised as anybody!

RW: ... and Karl was just sitting there, like this, laughing away...

JB: I have got to ask you some of your reactions, let's say, some of your experiences with my teacher at Eastman, Nicholas Konraty. I know you sang at opera performances, if you have any Nicki stories to share.

WW: Nicholas was the one that taught all of us what we call dramatics. There were dramatics, but dramatics really consisted of doing opera scenes, so I had him for two semesters, I think, and we staged opera scenes and stuff. He was just, I didn't get to know him as well as I did Genhart, but very well enough to know, and he was very, very wonderful in staging and making me aware of how opera all sort of worked, and the combination of the acting and the singing together, you know. So, it was a very pleasant relationship and we would always greeted each other warmly when we met afterwards and things like that. But he taught voice, himself...

JB: Yes, yes, he was my voice teacher at Eastman and he was a very impressive gentlemen because I know he had grown up in Moscow as the son of a conductor, and then in World War I became an army officer, and then after the War and the revolution there was nothing for him there. He had, he told me at one point that he had to make a decision to escape from Moscow in the still of the night, left a piano and library and everything, when he realized they were putting former army officers down on the front against the White Russians with machine guns at their backs, and he went, he fought with the White Russians for a while then went to what was then Constantinople and then to Italy and sang, and he actually met his wife, Lola, who was another Russian émigré, who had grown up as the daughter of a career army officer in Petrograd. They met in Paris and it was some time after Nicki's death, as Nan and I had a nice friendship with Lola, that I was relating stories to her


that she never knew about Nicki... , how he sang for the Czar in the Boys' Choir in the Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin, and she says, "I never knew that."

RW: Well, Lola was a very, very interesting person. A lot of the colorful people have just gone on.

WW: Oh, and of course, we can't forget the General, remember?   

JB: Oh, Arkadia Yegudkin[8].

RW: Oh Arkadia!

WW: Now, he was our great bridge guy. We would all go in the lounge and we would sit in there, and every time he'd be down there we would play bridge, and all of us we used to have somebody looking in the door because every so often Dr. Genhart would come through, and if he saw you playing bridge, my, that was a waste of time, so somebody would say, "Here comes Dr. Genhart," so we would all put the cards down and we would be talking and so on and so forth. He would come in and look around, then he would go out and then we would start playing bridge again. (Laughter)

JB: And that was with the General)

WW: ... and the General was there playing bridge with us, you know, oh no, he was in on it, the whole thing.

RW: :He used to go striding down the street with his little wife after him.

WW: And Dr. Fox[9]

RW: Dr. Fox.

JB: Charles Warren…

WW: …our history teacher. I'd never forget him because we had this thick history book, you know, and I learned the first examination that he was not going to ask you a thing about that. You would have to read all of this stuff and then he would tell you all these anecdotes about the Esterhazys and the… Frederick this and Frederick that and so on and so forth, and you're thinking you're going to get an examination. And it's all what he has told you, not what was in the book. I said, "Ah, that's what this is all about." So, I started paying attention to what he said and making notes, you know. And some of his anecdotes were just wonderful.

RW: Another thing he used to do would be, he would observe what was in the footnotes and he would ask the class what was the footnote on page so and so.

WW: Oh, yeah.

RW: More people got caught with those footnotes, so everybody was reading the footnotes. By the time they caught on to those footnotes, he was on to something else.

WW: He used to, and I used to have quite a few anecdotes, he used to have a whole gang of sayings that he would hear people say in passing and it would fascinate him, then he would write it down later. He would come up with some of the most fascinating, and they were, for instance, here's one; "Imagine thinking about men at a time like that." That's all.... well, now, what was that time? And he had a whole gang of these things and just in passing that he would hear and he would write down that would, you know, excite your imagination to what had preceded it, or what the conversation was….

JB: His versatility was amazing. His Ph. D. was in psychology.

WW: That's what… Yes, I remember that.  

JB: ... and he and I became fast friends at a "seminar" at the Town and Country on a Friday afternoon. We were part of a group that used to meet over there, when he found out that I had been a navigator in the Coast Guard. And he said, "Oh, that's very interesting," as he took his cigarette out, he said, "I used to teach navigation and mathematics to Eastman students in World War II." He told me just an outrageous story of how he taught how to take a noon sun position on the roof of the Annex. Well, the noon sun position is the hardest sight you can take in celestial navigation, and he told me how he simulated the horizon with a carpenter's level and he had some kind of crude protractor to measure the angle of the sun. And then he said with a smile, "And we found out that Swan Street was only 27 miles off on the local maps." (Laughter)

RW: That sounds just like him. Isn't that a riot?

JB: His versatility was amazing.

RW: It was sad the way he deteriorated towards the end of this life. They should never have had him retire, because after his retirement, I think, he didn't feel that he had much to live for. WW: Probably yes.

RW: Well, as long as people keep working they're always going to be active and their mind is going to be active.

WW: Well, I remember his one seat he used sit on right out in the corridor there and when everybody...  there he was, sitting there and hold court.

JB: Oh, yes, he would do his corridor duty under the clock, right.   

RW: He used to watch life go by. He was wonderful. We really had a lot of interesting characters in those days.

WW: Oh, yeah, yeah. Lucy Lee Call, remember her?

RW: Oh, yes, remember her?

WW: And Jeanne Woolforde, yes.

RW: Jeanne Woolforde had some very, very good students at one time.

WW: And, oh Lord, my theory teacher. She lived right down the...  

RW: Elvera Wonderlich.

WW: ... Wonderlich... I remember with her, she…we had for an examination to write a piece, an oratorio piece, a movement or something, in the style of the 18th century composer, and what I did, I wrote out a little cantata in the style of Handel, and when I got it back she had marked it A minus

RW: What was the minus for?

WW: ...  well, I am going to tell you. So, then she says, "…and I want to play for you one of the best examples," and lo and behold, she played one of the movements out of the thing that I wrote. So, I was satisfied with an A minus, but I was curious, you know, whether she thought that much of it, why did she give me a minus, why not just an A? So, I went up to her and I said, "Miss Wonderlich, thank you for playing my piece but I am curious, if you like it so, why did you give me an A minus?" She looked at me with that smile, she said, "Now, Mr. Warfield, you don't think any of us are as good as the masters themselves, do you?" (Laughter)

RW: I can hear her now.

JB: I can hear her, too.

WW: I was put right in my place. That's why I got the minus, I am not quite as good as Handel. (Laughter)

RW: She must have thought you were….

WW: ... well, that's not the point.

RW: Well, she must have thought that you were... sitting at his right hand, though...

WW: So, we're not, any of us, quite as good as the masters themselves, are we?

RW: I used to have teachers who never gave anyone 100%, because that theory was, that only God is perfect, and we are only human beings.

WW: Oh, I can tell you another one. This has nothing to do with the Eastman but later on in my teaching experience, a friend of mine said that he had a student that came to him that he had given a C, and the student had wondered why he didn't get a B. And he said, "And I was sitting there waiting for him," he says, "I knew he was going to challenge me." So, he came in and he says, "Professor (so-and-so), I wondered why you gave me a C?" He said, "I looked him straight in the face and I said, "John, I thought, and I thought, and I thought…and I decided I just really couldn't give you a D." (Laughter)

RW: Oh, the Master's put down.

WW: He said he looked at him and he said, "Oh," and walked right out. In other words, you weren't even thinking about it, you were thinking about a D. He said it worked.

RW: I had an English professor…

WW: "I couldn't bring myself to give you a D. "

RW: You know, something related to that, I had a professor at USC who said, "Now, about these grades, now if you get an E or an F, that's okay, you just are not going to make it. You are clearly and simply a failure, therefore you don't have anything to worry about. If I give a D, it means that you are not failing, I mean, you may be getting by, by the skin of your teeth, but you are not failing, and that is good. If I give you a C, that means it is wonderful because you belong to the Great American Average. If I give you a B, oh boy, you really ought to pat yourself on the back because you are good, you are above the Great American Average. If you get an A, why, you are untouchable anyway so that's wonderful " And he says, "You know, the fellows that I really feel sorry for are the ones that get A minuses." And everybody said, "Why?" "Imagine, coming so close to perfection and not quite making it. Now that is a great academic tragedy." Amen, folks, Amen. Gee, this has been great. We could go on for hours and hours and hours.

WW: Well, I am enjoying this.

RW: We enjoyed it so much.

JB: Well, thank you so much.   

WW: Well, I just wanted to...  a friend of mine who is a band director has a little sign on his desk and it says, "How many definitions can you give to ‘no'?" No. No means no. If I say no, in other words, don't ask me anymore. (Laughter) Well, I am so happy that we were able to sit and reminisce. It made me think of things that I had forgotten about, too.

JB: Well, we are very appreciative and I think...  

RW: Oh, yeah, this has been really great. This is the kind of history that we ought to have. Because, after all, we are made up of a whole lot of human beings after all, and we want a human reaction. You know, your book is very interesting and I enjoyed it, and I have given it to several people and they have enjoyed it, and it is wonderful. It's much better, though, to have you in person.

WW: Oh, thank you, thank you. Well, that's sort of a phase. The book is a phase. I have gotten all kinds of people from dear friends of mine, and actually, some of them said, "You know, I was very disappointed, I am very close to you and my name wasn't mentioned once in the book." I was trying in the book to give what I felt was my music and how my life related to my music and…

RW: That's right, on music…

WW: … therefore, it's concentrated on things, music and out of it, what my life was as a result of that. I could have written volumes, if I wanted to include personal experiences with people, but it wasn't geared in that direction.

JB: I thought it was very nicely put together.

RW: Yes, I liked that, but I don't understand why people always feel that their names must be mentioned someplace. After all, you know, we are here, and in a couple of dozen years, who is going to remember? It's what has been done and what you accomplish, and that will live forever.

WW: That reminds me of when Truman Capote put out, before he died, his memoirs and he was on one of the big shows, Phil Donahue, or something like that and knowing his wit and his knife cutting, they asked him, "Do a lot of your friends from Hollywood call you and say, ‘Truman, please don't put me in the book'?" He said, "Oh, no, quite the to the contrary, they are all calling and telling me, be sure you get me in the book."

RW: It says  something about the human ego.

WW: They wanted to be in the book, whatever he had to say.

RW: Oh, my goodness, my goodness, my goodness. Well, this has been great.

JB: This has been wonderful, it's been educational and enjoyable, and very useful. Thanks very much, Bill.

WW: Okay, good.

RW: Thank you.

[1] Anne Theodora Cummins (1888-1977). ESM’s first dean of women in 1922, she taught French and Italian from 1924-1953.

[2] Jessie Kneisel (1904–1992) served on the Eastman faculty from 1931 to 1976, teaching German, German diction, and a course on German libretti. She was Dean of Women at Eastman from 1933 to 1945.

[3] French musicologist and singer Yves Tinayre (1891-1972)

[4] Dr. Howard Hanson served as Director of the Eastman School of Music, a position he held for forty years.

[5] Herman Genhart (1899-1976) was conductor of the Eastman School of Music chorus from 1925 to 1965

[6] Vocalist and ESM faculty, Jan DeGaetani (1933-1989)

[7] Vocalist and ESM faculty, Seth McCoy (1928-1997)

[8] Arkadia Yegudkin (1884-1956), professor of horn,

[9] Charles Warren Fox (1904-1983) was initially hired at ESM in 932 to teach psychology, but soon became Eastman’s first musicologist.


Warfield, William, “William Warfield,” RBSCP Exhibits, accessed June 13, 2024, https://rbscpexhibits.lib.rochester.edu/items/show/7532.

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