"People may say that I couldn't sing. But no one can say that I didn't sing."
Despite lacking pitch, rhythm, or tone, Florence Foster Jenkins became one of America's best-known sopranos, celebrated for her unique recordings and her sell-out concert at Carnegie Hall. Born in 1868 to wealthy Pennsylvanian parents, Florence was a talented young pianist, but her life was thrown into turmoil when she eloped with Frank Jenkins, a man twice her age. The marriage proved a disaster, and, in order to survive, Florence was forced to abandon her dreams of a musical career and teach the piano. Then her father died in 1909, and, newly installed in New York, she used a considerable inheritance to fund her passion. She set up a prestigious amateur music club and began staging operas.
Aided by her English common-law husband, St Clair Bayfield, she worked tirelessly to support the city's musical life. Many young singers owed their start to Florence, but she, too, yearned to perform and began giving regular recitals that quickly attracted a cult following. And yet nothing could prepare the world for the astonishing climax of her career when, at the age of 76, she performed at the most hallowed concert hall in America.
In Florence Foster Jenkins, Nicholas Martin and Jasper Rees tell her extraordinary story, which inspired the film starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, directed by Stephen Frears.
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- Helen R. Cook