On the anniversary of her death on November 26, 1944, Carnegie Hall's Archives and Rose Museum Director Gino Francesconi remembers the career and single Carnegie Hall appearance of one of the most colorful "divas" ever to have performed here: Florence Foster Jenkins.
One of the archival concert programs that we are most often asked for is from a vocalist. It's not Enrico Caruso, and it's not Maria Callas or Geraldine Farrar. It's a singer by the name of Florence Foster Jenkins.
In order for a singer to succeed, they need to have a combination of talent, charisma, and interpretive quality. And, by definition, they need to be able to sing. Florence Foster Jenkins had none of these attributes. In fact, she was considered one of the worst singers of all time. She was independently wealthy and performed at the Waldorf and other places around town. It became a thing to do. You had to go and listen to Florence Foster screw up every song she attempted to sing.
She was having a great time and the audience was having a great time, so they kept telling her, "You need to make your Carnegie Hall debut." So on October 25, 1944, she did, and it was sold out in just two hours. They came from everywhere. She walked onstage in these ridiculous costumes that she'd made herself. She'd throw roses out into the audience, her assistants would go out and collect them, and she'd throw them out into the audience again. The audience would not let her go home. They cheered her and clapped, and one month and one day later she died at the age of 76.
It's an interesting one. To go from Florence Foster Jenkins to the ultimate diva spans possibly every singer that has ever been at Carnegie Hall.
Florence Foster Jenkins sings "Der Hölle Rache" from Die Zauberflöte and "Like a Bird," both of which she performed during her Carnegie Hall debut.
The program from Florence Foster Jenkins's Carnegie Hall concert on October 25, 1944. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
Related: Hall History