Russell, Anna

Anna Russell, comedienne, contralto, pianist (b at London 27 Dec 1911; d 18 Oct 2006 at Bateman's Bay, Australia). Born Ann Claudia Russell-Brown, her mother was a Canadian, her father a British officer. At 17, she attended the Royal College of Music, studying with Arthur Benjamin and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and graduated in musicology and composition. Moving to Canada in 1939, she made her Canadian radio debut on CFRB's Round the Marble Arch in 1940, performed on CBC's Jolly Miller Time, and with Syd Brown co-hosted the CBC's Syd and Anna, a largely improvised, conversational show in which fictitious sponsors were invented and topics flirted dangerously with "vulgarity."

Russell's parodies of classical repertoire led to her first one-woman show at Eaton Auditorium in 1942. On the encouragement of Sir Ernest MacMillan, she appeared several times with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the 1940s. With deliciously satirical spoofs, such as Anemia's Death Scene and her masterful Ring of the Neibelung ("I'm not making this up, you know") she gave her American debut at New York's Carnegie Recital Hall in 1947. International popularity followed, and she augmented her concert and recital appearances with two Broadway shows, Anna Russell's Little Show (1955) and All by Myself (1960). Writing her own material - Russell's accompanists have included John Coveart, Eugene Rankin, Frank Bartholomew and Robert Rosenberger - she devoted the next 30 years to affectionate mockeries of opera, ladies musical clubs, lieder, art songs, Irish harps and bagpipes, appearing worldwide from Singapore to New York, from Sydney to London. Canadian performances included the 1953 Spring Thaw, the 1959 Vancouver International Festival, the 1977 Stratford Festival, the 1977 Canadian Opera Company's production of Daughter of the Regiment, and the 1982 opening season of Roy Thomson Hall. In July 1998, Sony Classical released Anna Russell, Encore, a CD of prime vintage material.

Russell's farewell world tour began in 1983, and she retired in 1986. Demand for her unique, boisterous sketches, however, has meant that her recordings have rarely been unavailable. Among other writings, she has published an autobiography (1985) entitled I'm Not Making This Up, You Know.