Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Living Out Loud: From Silent Cinema to Baltimore Punk Rock An Oral History of Alice Stringer (1912-1999)
Kerrie (Carolyn) Welsh

Last modified: 2010-05-12


This paper will present original research on pianist and vocalist Alice Stringer, covering the years from 1916 to 1936.  In an interview I recorded with Ms. Stringer in 1998, she describes a star-studded career that trailblazes from improvising piano scores for silent cinema and performing on some of the first radio stations in the country (WDAU, WPRO and, WHN), to being 'discovered' by Lou Walters (Barbara Walter's father), barnstorming with Duke Ellington, and performing in gangster-owned nightclubs in New York City.  Ms. Stringer recollects the transitional era as "the silent movies went out," the circuits existing between live performance economies and Hollywood, and the position of women during this period. 


Ms. Stringer was a figure of some public notoriety, but she eschewed interviews and there was no obituary.  The public memory of Ms. Stringer is limited to the web pages of boy bands from the Baltimore punk scene of the 1980's.  My favorite of these acknowledgements is from Adrian Grimes:


"I took voice lessons from an amazing 86 year-old Baltimore woman called Alice Stringer who, in her youth, had taught Frank Sinatra a thing or two about crooning. She would stick her hands down my spandex pants while I stared her in the face and arpeggio'd "I will let you love me" in the key of mild panic."     


This presentation will weave Ms. Stringer's recollections with others' accounts, archival materials, and existing histories.  Ms. Stringer's experiences expand our knowledge of the transitional era between silent and sound movies, with its shifting economic and social realities influenced by prohibition as well as technological change.  Her story also provides a ferocious female figure whose influence on the careers of young men, from Adrianne Grimes, to Frank Sinatra, to Michael Dansicker (a prominent musical director who was her student), inverts the Svengali model, reminding us of the possibilities of cross-gender identification.  Alice Stringer's story celebrates a legacy of “living out loud” based in the pleasures of independence, experimentation, and improvisation.


This interview was produced as part of an oral history project begun by Louise Tiranoff at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.   The archive includes interviews with 76 female filmmakers conducted between 1998 and 2002.  I am working to publish the archive so that these interviews can be available to future filmmakers and scholars.


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