May 12th, 2014

A child singer with a difference

We’ve become familiar with those “Fill-In-the-Blank-Country’s Got Talent” videos that feature an unlikely person—shy, young, fat, or weird, or sometimes several of those characteristics—belting out a song. The style is usually either diva-esque, operatic, or rock. The judges look stunned and the audience goes wild.

Susan Boyle was probably the most famous of the genre, but quite a few of these singers are children. Now there’s another child singer in a competition who’s getting a lot of press, a lovely seven-year-old (now newly-turned eight) from Norway named Angelina Jordan who works a whole different angle on it—and not just because she sings barefoot, but because she sings a very different kind of song. As one of the judges told her not long after first hearing her, “You sing in a way that we believe you have to be old, or even very old to be able to do.”

It’s not that Anglina has such a great voice in the technical sense. She doesn’t. Like many of the other child stars on these shows she is a sort of parrot, very good at mimicking the voice quality of others (even though her English diction is somewhat sketchy). In her case, the listeners’ amazement comes from who it is she’s chosen to channel and what type of song she’s chosen to sing.

The judge’s surprise in the case of Angelina seems real. It’s not a frenzied, excited amazement; it’s quiet and solemn, and borders on awe (when you watch the video, you should be able to see English captions to understand their remarks).

Reincarnation, anyone?

Here’s the original and still the greatest:

The song—with which I was heretofore unfamiliar—has an unusual pedigree. It was originally Hungarian, written in 1933 by Rezső Seress, who composed the first set of lyrics, which were about the very gloomy state of the world:

It is autumn and the leaves are falling
All love has died on earth
The wind is weeping with sorrowful tears
My heart will never hope for a new spring again
My tears and my sorrows are all in vain
People are heartless, greedy and wicked…

Love has died!

The world has come to its end, hope has ceased to have a meaning
Cities are being wiped out, shrapnel is making music
Meadows are coloured red with human blood
There are dead people on the streets everywhere
I will say another quiet prayer:
People are sinners, Lord, they make mistakes…

The world has ended!

An alternate theory has the lyric as having been written during or immediately after WWII. Whichever it is, these were not the lyrics that became part of the song when it was released in 1933. The 1933 lyrics were by poet László Jávor, and in translation they read something like the Billie Holliday lyrics:

On a sad Sunday with a hundred white flowers, I was waiting for you, my dear, with a church prayer, That dream-chasing Sunday morning, The chariot of my sadness returned without you.

Ever since then, Sundays are always sad, tears are my drink, and sorrow is my bread… Sad Sunday.

Last Sunday, my dear, please come along, There will even be priest, coffin, catafalque, hearse-cloth. Even then flowers will be awaiting you, flowers and coffin. Under blossoming (flowering in Hungarian) trees my journey shall be the last.

My eyes will be open, so that I can see you one more time, Do not be afraid of my eyes as I am blessing you even in my death… Last Sunday.

The lyrics Billie Holiday—and Angelina Jordan—used were a 1935 translation by Sam M. Lewis. Holiday recorded the song in 1941, and it is overtly about suicide. She sang all the verses; Angelina left out the second one:

Sunday is gloomy,
My hours are slumberless
Dearest the shadows
I live with are numberless
Little white flowers
Will never awaken you
Not where the black coach of
Sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought
Of ever returning you
Would they be angry
If I thought of joining you?

Gloomy Sunday

Gloomy is Sunday,
With shadows I spend it all
My heart and I
Have decided to end it all
Soon there’ll be candles
And prayers that are said I know
Let them not weep
Let them know that I’m glad to go
Death is no dream
For in death I’m caressin’ you
With the last breath of my soul
I’ll be blessin’ you

Gloomy Sunday

Dreaming, I was only dreaming
I wake and I find you asleep
In the deep of my heart, dear
Darling I hope
That my dream never haunted you
My heart is tellin’ you
How much I wanted you
Gloomy Sunday

There are all sorts of legends about people committing suicide because of listening to the song, but none verified. I wouldn’t doubt that some people already intent on suicide might listen to it before committing the act, though. However, the original composer, Rezső Seressk, did commit suicide in 1968.

17 Responses to “A child singer with a difference”

  1. waitforit Says:

    Didn’t hurt the precious girl’s chances that Hollliday’s voice sounded like a little girl and immediately draws us in to a Hungarian rhapsody.

  2. chuck Says:

    I had a girlfriend who used to play Billie Holiday during her period. Depressing as Hell, but that is what she seeking, it fit her mood.

  3. Ymarsakar Says:

    Sarawashi tadashi engi

  4. vanderleun Says:

    Sorry, I want to like this kid and her singing, but more and more taken in context its just another act in the ever expanding freak show that was once culture. It’s just another brick in the wall.

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    More like a money show. There’s money there.

  6. waitforit Says:

    mORe AND mORe
    I long fOR
    the blue shORe

  7. M of H Says:

    there is a great movie called “Gloomy Sunday” – a dramatization of the story of the writing of this iconic song. Once upon a time it was available for free play on Netflix, but today I see one has to have the DVD sent out. It’s very much worth watching. Set in WWII, made in 1999.

  8. Ann Says:

    Okay, call me an old prude, or something, but I think it’s wrong for little kids to be learning and singing a world-weary blues song.

    And I’m not really sure exactly how this is different from dressing up a little girl in the manner of, say, poor little JonBenét Ramsey.

  9. Artfldgr Says:

    “Susan Boyle was probably the most famous of the genre”

    how would you entitle the genre?

    Wouldn’t Jim Nabors be more famous?
    Jim Nabors sang opera.

    but that would depend on how you titled it. no?

    Tomorrow Never Comes By Jim Nabors
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGsy6Ynu-pw

    Gomer Pyle(Jim Nabors) Impossible Dream
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqJ2jYumJJo

    note that on the left bar of you tube with this above excerpt from film was a recording by Susan Boyle.

    i will say its a lot better than the albums each of the star trek cast put out, ranging from “old green eyes is back” (spinner/data), to twinkle twinkle (Nemoy/Spock), to several albums by William Shatner that could almost stand up for Vogon poetry the third worst poetry in the Universe.

    The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England, in the destruction of the planet Earth.

  10. Artfldgr Says:

    Holiday recorded the song in 1941, and it is overtly about suicide..,

    so is lead belly’s Goodnight Irene
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xn50JSI0W-E

    and for led zepplin fans you can hear him sing gallows pole.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ye2N_2ce3QE

    i am more a fan of blind willie mctell
    ‘Lord, Send Me An Angel’ BLIND WILLIE McTELL (1933)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qux0DTr_28

    Blind Willie McTell – Statesboro Blues
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnWxZtI3ONY

    i wonder where they lie in the whole of it given their songs became hits, but they are mostly unknown, barely alive in obscurity.

    “I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” Banksy

  11. charles o'brien Says:

    There’s a scene in Schindler’s List (the book) that has two camp inmates brought in to play music for one of Amon Goeth’s dinners. They play Gloomy Sunday for one seriously depressed SS officer–over and over, until he excuses himself, goes outside, and shoots himself

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    Artfldgr:

    Nabors would have come under the title, “People Whose Appearance and Demeanor Makes Their Singing Voice a Surprise”

    But the genre title I’m talking about here is, “People Who Got Their Start on Singing Reality Shows Whose Appearance and Demeanor Makes Their Singing Voice a Surprise.”

    A sub-genre of the first, if you will.

  13. Gringo Says:

    Because I got rid of Adobe Flash, I needed to go to YouTube to listen to Angelina. I wouldn’t have bothered, but mention of Gloomy Sunday got my attention. I was amazed how much Angelina Jordon sounds like Billy Holiday,

    Maybe waitforit has it right:

    Didn’t hurt the precious girl’s chances that Hollliday’s voice sounded like a little girl.

  14. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    Well speaking as an Olson, and therefore a fellow Norskie, Ive to tell you chaps that she is really not that gloomed out, she is merely pining for the fjords.

  15. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    More than anything else, this child seems a gifted mimic. I suspect that she is brighter than average, and quite observant.

  16. Tom Says:

    “An alternate theory has the lyric as having been written during or immediately after WWII. Whichever it is, these were not the lyrics that became part of the song when it was released in 1933.”

    I’m pretty sure the alternate theory has the lyric being written around WW I, The Great War.

    But yes, Gloomy lyrics, great Billie … and fine mimic, who missed a bit on the English sometimes. (I listened to Billie first).

    I can imagine her folks listening to this, among other blues songs, and a little girl hearing in Billie’s voice more of an echo of her own than in any other singer’s voices. Plus, it’s the meaning of lyrics that are so very gloomy, the music and the tones of the voice are more … matter of fact? just another day? missing that certain je ne sais quoi of most more gloomy songs?

  17. Joe Y Says:

    What M of H says: “Gloomy Sunday” is a terrific movie, not least because it shows the descent of the German character from shyness to brutality. Great film.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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