Friday, October 29, 2010

Likeable performers

I recently posted, on this blog, a video of Helen O’Connell, singing the song “Green Eyes,” from an early 1950s TV broadcast. Though I enjoyed her singing a great deal, in the video, I was also struck by this: how likeable Ms. O’Connell appeared. One becomes aware of this likeable quality the moment the video begins. She had a friendly and appealing demeanor, and looked to be enjoying herself, as she sang.

Here, too, are The Beatles, from the film A Hard Day’s Night, performing “I Should Have Known Better.” The Beatles routinely conveyed a sense of enjoyment, during their performances (as did, I think, Elvis Presley). It is an attractive quality, and one that not all performers share.

I think of a terrific singer/guitarist/songwriter performing today—KT Tunstall, who is from Scotland. She has a very likeable stage presence, and a very appealing vocal style.

Here is Tunstall singing “Suddenly I See,” on David Letterman’s show. The video is from 2006.

Please note, in the above video, a signature feature of Tunstall’s performances: she employs foot pedals—known, evidently, as looping pedals. She uses them to record brief sections of her performances—such as, vocal phrases, or beats tapped out on her guitar—and then plays them back moments later, as accompaniment. The pedals are used, for vocal purposes, at the start of her performance on David Letterman’s program.

Here is another performance, also from David Letterman’s program, during a broadcast from Chicago. The video is of Al Green, who has regularly brought a very likeable quality, and, indeed, a sense of joy, to his performances. (I am not sure of the year of the video—though it is perhaps from 1998, when the CD referred to by Letterman, during his introduction of Green, was released.)

And concerning the subject of my book: there were many performers in early television, it seems to me, who had about them a noticeably likeable quality, a number of whom are a part of my book: singers such as Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson, Eileen Wilson, Russell Arms (all from the Hit Parade), bandleader Freddy Martin (who starred on his own network show in 1951, a show on which my mother appeared as a regular guest), bandleader Kay Kyser, and others.

I think it is probable that being likeable was an important attribute during early television. Americans were given, during the period of early TV, a new proximity to performers; they were now seen up close, in one’s home, one’s living room. I am guessing that being likeable, week after week, made the presence of such performers, within the home, that much more pleasing.