Anna Russell
Guy Lochhead, 05/03/13
English singer and comedian known for her parody analyses of musical styles. She studied at the Royal College of Music, where she was mocked for her unusual voice. She used her experience of this to launch her career as a musical parodist, alongside serious roles in various operas and musicals. She is best known for her analysis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. She also parodied folk music. She retired in the late ’60s, but parodied ageing opera stars’ farewell tours in the ’70s and ’80s. She died in 2006, aged 94. I like the way Russell was an insider able to hold a mirror to musical institutions. Although I feel some of her comedy is rooted in a sort of cultural elitism, she does succeed in opening up the majority of her subjects to be analysed and criticised by a previously unfamiliar audience. In researching her, I came across some album artwork that has been the subject of some internet controversy. The cover and title of ‘In Darkest Africa’ are undoubtedly racist, though I think this misdirection was from the idiot record company playing for cheap sales rather than a deeply held belief of Russell. Within the context of educating kids about classical and folk music, Russell is important. She pops the bubble of pomposity with her blunt critiques of composers’ irrelevance. I will include ‘Anna Russell Sings! Again?’, which includes her famous take-down of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

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