Richard Crooks began singing as a boy soprano in his local church. The famed contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink heard the young Crooks at a performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah and foresaw his promise; soon local choirmaster Sydney H. Bourne began formal voice training with him. With World War I's outbreak in 1917, Crooks lied about his age and enlisted to become a pilot in the Army Air Force. Before embarking to France, Crooks made a test record of his singing at the Columbia Records studio in New York, perhaps as insurance against an unlucky fate. Both he and his test survived the armistice. Upon returning, Crooks studied with baritone Leon Rothier and the vocal coach/pianist Frank La Forge. Crooks' voice caught the attention of Walter Damrosch, who engaged him to sing Siegfried at a concert of the New York Symphony Orchestra in November 1922. From his first appearance, the New York press was abuzz about Crooks, and he shortly thereafter accepted a management contract. Victor Records signed Crooks as an artist in mid-1923, and in addition to solo records issued on the blue Victor label, Crooks appeared in Victor's series of anonymously performed operetta and musical theater "gems" in the black label "popular" series. Crooks continued to make these after he was established as a "Red Seal" artist. Damrosch was intent on getting Crooks to study in Europe, but Crooks and his wife decided against this course of action. This did not prevent him from touring overseas, and in Hamburg in 1927 he made his operatic debut in Tosca. Crooks followed that with his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1930. During this period Crooks was continuing to make scores of recordings for Victor, and some even in Europe. Crooks' strong, clear voice, crisp enunciation, and command of languages made him an ideal match for recording, and his records were popular sellers worldwide. After returning to New York in 1933 from his third tour of Europe, Crooks decided to record Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin in its entirety. To his profound disappointment, Victor did not release the records until 1941, and then only in a drastically shortened version. The complete Die schöne Müllerin with Crooks and La Forge would wait until 1997 for release, but this attempt to record such a large, "uncommercial" vocal work in the depths of the depression economy is an achievement which speaks for itself. In 1933, Crooks instituted a highly popular series of radio broadcasts on the long-running Voice of Firestone program. He also finally joined the Metropolitan Opera's official roster. In the late '30s, Crooks made tours of Australia and New Zealand that were so well received he had to add dates to his itinerary, delaying his return to the U.S. for months. One such delay, in 1939, was nearly costly, as the outbreak of the Second World War found Crooks and his wife stranded in Cape Town, South Africa. After he sang several concerts there, the Crooks found passage back to the U.S. on a cattle boat. Ill health intervened, and in 1942 Crooks retired from the Metropolitan on the advice of his doctor. Crooks cancelled his Victor recording contract in 1945, and in 1950 ceased all professional work. In 1966, Crooks was honored at the Farewell Gala to the Old Met, this proving to be his final public appearance. Richard Crooks died at the age of 72, leaving behind a massive and rewarding legacy of commercial and radio recordings, some among the finest made by any tenor.
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