Why the Worst Singer in the World Should Be Your Hero
Florence Foster Jenkins is being played by legendary actress Meryl Streep in a an autobiographical film on the singer. There are already several movies, hundreds of articles, and no less than four plays on the singer. She is one of the most famous singers in history. Her music has never been out of print despite being born in 1868. Why are people so fascinated with a woman who was called “the worst singer in the world” and “sang anything but the notes”? The answer is that her belief in herself and her love of music was was so strong, she lived her life pursuing her joy despite the world telling her she shouldn’t.
Even though she had to endure a ton of mockery and she was very ill for most of her life, she consistently performed recitals. She sang in public so consistently — and so consistently badly — that she became a cult figure. The audience would laugh, whistle, and cheer as they simply did not know what to make of this woman. She would beam with self confidence and enthusiasm. Now matter what your voice sounds like, if you put that energy out you are bound to put on an entertaining show. She eventually became a performing arts icon. At the age of 76 she performed at Carnegie Hall, fulfilling her life-long dream. Tickets for her concert sold out weeks in advance and numerous celebrities attended, such as legendary song writer Cole Porter. Her recordings are over the top in their silliness and merriment, putting on one of her recordings is sure to change someone’s gloomy mood. If you don’t believe me just listen to her recording posted below. I dare you not to laugh.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Jenkins: “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.” I got chills the first time I read this quote. Think for a moment if you lived your life according to this quote. Would you spend your life worrying about what people think or more time doing the things you dream of doing before you die? Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know how to realize that the things we are all afraid of: mockery, rejection, judgement, etc, do not hurt us nearly as much as denying ourselves the pursuits in life that make us feel most alive while we’re here. Florence died a month after that performance at Carnegie Hall.
That was 72 years ago and people are still listening to Florence’s recordings and making movies about her. She still inspires millions of people for her sheer courage. It hard not to love someone who dares to pursue their greatest joy, even if they’re terrible at it. Why I’m personally fascinated by her is because she is the polar opposite of talented singers that surrender their dreams due to fear of being judged. It’s this reason that she remains an inspiration of merriment to this day.
The eccentric story of Florence Foster Jenkins leaves aspiring singers with this question: would you rather be a good singer that never lets anyone hear them sing and therefore inspires no one, or would you rather be an awful singer that will be remembered forever for having the courage to try?