In A Nutshell
Florence Foster Jenkins was an amateur operatic soprano, who was widely recognized as the world’s worst opera singer. After she inherited a large amount of money, Jenkins performed at numerous venues, including Carnegie Hall. Surprisingly, she was immensely popular throughout the first half of the 20th century and recorded a number of records.
The Whole Bushel
Born to wealthy parents in Pennsylvania in 1868, Florence Foster Jenkins took music lessons as a child, which inspired her to ask for opera lessons as well. When her father refused to pay for them, Jenkins eloped to Philadelphia with a doctor and remained married until 1902. Six years later, she began a relationship with the stage actor St. Clair Bayfield, who later became her (lifelong) manager. Her father died the next year and Jenkins received a large sum of money as an inheritance.
She immediately began taking singing lessons and founded the Verdi Club in New York City. It was there that Jenkins began performing in recitals in 1912. When her mother died in 1928, Jenkins received even more money with which to become a full-time operatic singer. Unfortunately for her, singing was not her forte. Jenkins had very little sense of pitch, rhythm, or tempo and couldn’t sustain a note for any length of time. In fact, she was nicknamed “the diva of din” and “the queen of camp” by many of her reviewers.
Nevertheless, Jenkins persisted in her dream of becoming a popular operatic singer because she was adept at deflecting or ignoring the words hurled at her by critics. Her accompanist, Cosme McMoon, was quoted as saying: “No one can do what Florence Foster Jenkins did because they all try to send her up. She was totally sincere.” During the performances, which required costume changes, Jenkins would apologize to the audience and exit the stage, leaving the crowd to sit in silence while she put on her new outfit, which only added to the expectations the audience had.
After years of toiling away in New York City, where she became immensely popular with her audiences, she sold all her possessions and rented out Carnegie Hall for a one-night performance. Three thousand tickets were available and over 5,000 people turned up to buy them, selling out the place weeks in advance. Sadly, only a month after singing at Carnegie Hall, Jenkins died, broke and penniless.