My Man: The Vocal Signature of Fanny Brice

Ann van der Merwe

Abstract


One of the leading comediennes of the early twentieth century, Fanny Brice was well-known for her physical humour. Indeed, she relied heavily on her body. She mocked the grace and beauty of ballet with perfectly awkward movements, and her Jewish mannerisms became synonymous with many of the characters she portrayed. When she introduced the torch song My Man into her repertoire, however, she found her voice more useful than her body.
Brices performances of My Man, beginning with her debut of the song in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 and continuing through subsequent recordings and the rendition seen in the 1936 film The Great Ziegfeld, demonstrate her increasing reliance on the vocal rather than the physical. By the late 1920s, she was using variations in rhythm, articulation, and vocal timbre that show a heightened understanding of the voice as an instrument of expression. Moreover, she had adapted the style, range, and tempo of the song to emphasize her interpretative choices.
This presentation traces the evolution of Brices vocal technique through her performances of My Man. It explores her development as a singer, the aspects of the song that facilitated her growth, and the likely reasons it became her vocal signature.

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