Amateur night

September 21, 2010


I stepped into the room the other night long enough to hear Jackie Evancho sing a duet with Sarah Brightman a half hour or so before coming in second on “America’s Got Talent.” I don’t follow the show, so I don’t  know anything about the grown-up male singer who came in first — in fact, I don’t know his name. Whoever he is, I’m glad he won, because I found Evancho’s involvement on that show disconcerting. I worry about the impact all that excitement has on a 10-year-old psyche. When the winner was announced and the child didn’t seem the least bothered by it, I even found that unsettling.

Also, people around me who have formal training in voice tell me that it isn’t a good idea for a child that age to be singing such demanding music. It has something to do with the need for vocal cords to develop gradually. I wondered if Brightman was alluding to that when she remarked that she hoped Evancho would “preserve” her voice.


Since I so often use this blog to date myself — should I say, place myself in historical context — I might mention that I was a fan of broadcast talent shows before they became such extravaganzas. I was a loyal follower, for instance, of Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts” show, which began on radio and continued on television. I believe it was “simulcast” for a while — broadcast life on radio and television at the same time. In a way, that technique has made sort of a comeback in the form of radio shows that are simultaneously webcast with video. WNYC radio in New York does that from time to time. Godfrey was preceded in the genre by Major Bowes and Ted Mack, who called his radio and later TV show “The Original Amateur Hour.” Ted Mack graduates included Gladys Knight, Pat Boone, Ann-Margret, and Raul Julia. Major Bowes best-known alumnus has to be Frank Sinatra.


A later attempt to exploit the same concept was “Talent Scouts,” a show on which celebrities brought unknown performers to the public’s attention. Jim Backus was the host of that show, which ran only in 1962. I remember that one of the celebrities was Harry Belafonte, who brought a singer named Valentine Pringle. If I remember correctly, Pringle sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with a bass voice that gave me the shivers. He later made two vinyl albums, and they are among my favorites to this day.

It always surprised me that Val Pringle didn’t become more widely known as a singer. He had an interesting career, though, writing songs — including “Louise” for Belafonte — acting on television and in films, and performing with folks like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, and Eartha Kitt. He sang the role of Porgy in a recording of George and Ira Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” produced by Readers Digest.


Eventually, Pringle and his wife moved to Maseru in South Africa where he was murdered in 1999 by burglars whom he confronted after they had entered his home. Pringle was a U.S. Army war veteran. His ashes are interred at Arlington National Cemetery.


3 Responses to “Amateur night”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    People who claim television has no lasting influence on children must have missed our backyard productions, when we held our own “Amateur Hours” and “Talent Scout” shows. It was a bit tricky now and then, being contestants and judges at the same time, but it worked out ok.

    Well, except for the time Karen Dimmit “won” by claiming she’d trained her painted Woolworth’s turtle to turn around. I never believed it.

    I just had my first experience of not finding someone on youtube – Val Pringle. I did find him on, though, and will give a listen this evening.

  2. charlespaolino Says:

    Yes, it’s a shame that he has become so obscure. I’d be interesting in hearing what you think of his voice and his delivery.

  3. shoreacres Says:

    It took me a while to find a sample of Pringle’s work. As it turned out, mp3, yahoo music, etc. had his name listed but no tracks.

    However! Barnes and Noble has a terrific volume entitled Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music that has several clips from Pringle.

    There are shouts, work chants, war chants and so on, as well as the more common blues and gospel. Pringle’s represented in several areas, and I only wish the selections were longer. His voice is perfect for the shouts, especially – solid enough to reach the farthest field worker.

    It’s rare to find such a wonderful, eclectic collection. A few, such as the Yoruba Work Chant, take me straight back to my time in West Africa, and make the collection worth having.

    There’s something about Pringle’s voice I can’t quite describe. It sounds alive in a way many don’t. It makes me think of James Earl Jones reading Poe’s “The Raven”.

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