Lynnie Godfrey brings 'Jazz Upstairs' at Symphony Hall
Among the awards Lynnie Godfrey has amassed during her entertainment career are a Drama Desk nomination for her Broadway debut in "Eubie!" and Dramalogue and NAACP Awards for her supporting actress outstanding performance in "No Place To Be Somebody."
Godfrey appears in the "Jazz Upstairs" series, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown.
In addition to "Eubie!" on Broadway, she's had roles on the TV shows, "Brewster Place" and "L.A. Law," and was in the movie, "V.I. Warshawski."
Her Symphony Hall performance feature songs by Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.
Backing her up are: Roger Latzgo, piano; Tom Hamilton, tenor sax; Gene Perla, bass; and Gary Rissmiller, drums.
Songs and singing began in her youth, Godfrey says in an interview from her home in North Whitehall Township.
"My mother was a professional singer, but when I was three she stopped singing commercially and brought me into her church to sing hymns.
"By the time I was nine, and in middle school, I was introduced to my voice teacher, Dr. Chauncey Northern Sr. of Carnegie Hall. He was the music director of my mother's church. She had me sing a song for him, and he was greatly impressed.
"He told her that I had a very low voice, but that I was still a soprano, and he could develop my voice. Today, my voice ranges from very low to very high. I studied with him until his death at 90 in 1992."
Godfrey attended voice classes twice a week through junior and senior high school, but didn't join the usual choral groups. She had her sights set on singing in a club.
After graduation from high school she attended Hampton University. In her freshman there, she said her speech teacher, Marjorie Moon, now music director of the Billie Holiday Theater, New York City, told her "'I like the way you speak, and I think you should audition for our theater production, 'Sister Sonji.'" The production was about a student who was going to go to Hunter College, and that's where Godfrey was headed next.
Lloyd Richards, who directed "Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway, was teaching a black theater history course at Hunter and became Godfrey's mentor for the next three years. Richards taught her teaching, acting and directing, and did not allow her to audition for non college shows until she graduated.
Upon graduation from Hunter in 1976, Godfrey took a job at a theater in Greenwich Village in New York City, which led to many auditions, including "Ragtime Blues" and "Shuffle Along," with the latter revamped into "Eubie!"
Rave reviews for her performance in "Eubie!" was followed by the musical "Stringbean." In 2002, at the urging of her husband, she produced her own one-woman show, "Ladies of Song," a tribute to Ethel Waters, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald.
"I still keep my voice in shape by doing the exercises Northern Sr. and another teacher taught me. I also warm up with them [the exercises] before every performance, and constantly travel to seminars to hear other voices.
"I'm always getting requests to teach, and I guess I could do that a little, but I don't think people understand the voice enough. It's a muscle and it has to be exercised all the time. You cannot abuse it or you will lose it."
Godfrey plans to release an as-yet untitled CD in January.
Tickets: allentownsymphony.org, 610-432-6715