They can say I can’t sing, but they can’t say I didn’t.
–Florence Foster Jenkins
We have begun preparations for Stephen Temperley’s Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins, which I adore. As a play, it’s nothing fancy, but it doesn’t need to be. When you are doing a biography and your subject is a ridiculous and rich tone-deaf (oh, sorry, amusia-suffering) amateur opera singer from the 1930s–40s who, through her sincere passion for music and performance, nourished a cult-following who fought tooth-and-nail for entry to her sold out private concerts, you don’t need a complicated script.
There are no biographies of Ms. Jenkins, and most of what I have found has been from strange and dubious sources. The most lengthy non-internet piece I have managed to find has been a five-page chapter in Songs in the Key of Z, which is kind of a encyclopedia of musically-oriented oddballs. And that’s fine…but when a writer only lists three sources–two liner notes from LPs of Jenkin’s work (which I am desperately trying to get a hold of) and another encyclopedia on eccentricity–and he expends the majority of his stylistic energy coming up with clever synonyms for the word diva, I start to worry. And then there is the cover…
My intern happily scolded me “not to judge a book by its cover” (have you ever honestly had cause to use that line?), but it’s difficult to take this book seriously. But I have to! There is just not a lot out there. There is the transcript of a radio interview with Cosme McMoon (not his real name) in the archive of a university website, and a review of one of Jenkins’s concerts from Time magazine. I’ve found her family history and a few articles from the New York Times (including her surprisingly short obit). But I am hungry for more because she is fascinating! She would make a great interview!