“My Man:” The Vocal Signature of Fanny Brice


  • Ann van der Merwe Miami University


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. Brice’s 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 Brice’s 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.

Author Biography

Ann van der Merwe, Miami University

ANN OMMEN VAN DER MERWE is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She earned her BM in voice performance from the University of Illinois in 2000 and began her musical career as a singer and dancer in regional theatre. Among her professional credits are a national tour of Anything Goes, summer stock productions of Into the Woods, Chicago and A Chorus Line, and regional productions of Showboat and Sugar Babies. Turning her passion for music and theatre into an academic pursuit, she earned the MA and PhD degrees in musicology from The Ohio State University. Ann’s research interests include musical theatre and film, vaudeville and popular song. She has presented papers at conferences throughout the United States, and she has published articles in Studies in Musical Theatre and Music Theory Spectrum. Her book The Ziegfeld Follies: A History in Song, has recently been published by Scarecrow Press. She is an active member of the American Musicological Society and the Society for American Music.