No One Can Say That I Didn’t Sing

One has to admire an individual who simply will not allow an obstacle to deter them from what they have set out to do. Although time has made her obscure, I am certain that Florence Foster Jenkins was such an individual. She was born to a wealthy New York City family, and her father recognized that she had little going for her other than being his daughter. As a young lady or aristocracy, when she asked her father to fund her study of music in Europe, he refused to do it.

So, she found someone who would do it, and she eloped with that man. Within a year, she contracted the disease syphilis from her new husband. She abandoned him, but retained syphilis for the remainder of her life. I know this is a terrible story, but keep reading, because it gets worse. She could play the piano, and she supported herself by co-habitating with a British Shakespearean actor. Thus, classic literature combined with music to inspire her to create tableau vivants (artistic expression) which was more about the visual display of costumes than about acting or musical accompaniment in a play. When she injured her arm and could no longer express herself with piano performances, she found a new musical “talent,” singing.

Remember that she suffered from the disease of syphilis, incurable, but treatable. That disease breaks down the nervous system. Its treatment included the use of arsenic and mercury, which usually led to progressive hearing loss. While I cannot find any written information to support it, my theory is that the management of her illness led to her “tin ear.” In other words, she could not hear the off-key sound of her singing voice. She might have lived her life in obscurity, except that when her father died, she again became wealthy and was welcomed back to New York high social circles. She continued, with her companion, to create and to perform in the tableau vivants, but only for her clutch of friends. It was all a big social event for their club of sorts. She was liked, and she provided them with this entertainment. But, she knew what people thought about it all. She once remarked, “People say that I cannot sing. But, no one can say that I didn’t sing.”

It is said that her friends took great care to keep news media away so that she would not be mocked for her poor singing. At the same time, there was a report of one of her friends, a notable composer, who would slam the foot of his cane into his shoe in order to stop laughing aloud during her performance. There is a new film out that celebrates her life. Go see “Florence Foster Jenkins,” the film, if you dare. Curiously, in film, her person is carried along by some of today’s famous actors, who play the parts of the friends who carried her through her life.


Tony is a writer, an author of several published novels, and an independent publisher. In September 2012, he wrote and published the first of a three-book drama series, “A Voice from New Mill Creek: The Methodists,” as an e-book. In April, 2013, he released his second e-book and first romance novel, “Goodnight Paige.” In July, 2013, Tony released a guidebook titled “How Tony Wrote and Published Two Novels.” In May 2014, he published “The Star of India, “the second novel in the Voice From New Mill Creek drama series.

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