Remembering Shirley Verrett

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With the news of her death over the weekend, I found myself watching clips of Shirley Verrett on YouTube yesterday. Sadly, I never saw her perform on the opera stage. But, thanks to YouTube, I was able to get a sense of just how fabulous she was. I was absolutely blown away by what I saw. Her Delilah was to die for. And this from a woman who was known to be quite shy! Amazing. I’m still moved as I think about it this morning.

I did, however, have the opportunity to meet Shirley Verrett and spend an evening working with her on Channel 13. As it turned out, it was a night I will never forget.

We were airing one of the Three Tenors concerts for the umpteenth time and – yes – asking people to send in donations to support the station. We were at the old station which is now the trendy Hudson Hotel on 57th street and there were a hundred volunteers answering telephones behind us.

As it turns out, Placido Domingo was in town that night having dinner with a friend. He saw Miss Verrett on our air and told his friend that he would never forgive himself if he didn’t stop by to see her and help with the fundraising.

After a good deal of negotiating with the guards at the front door who were hesitant to let the surprise visitor in, Placido Domingo appeared in the doorway of "pledge central." Miss Verrett... nearly fainted! "Placy!" she screamed. This was followed by lots of hugging and kissing, etc., etc.

Through all of this, the cameras were rolling in our studios. I did my best to explain the situation to the viewers and when things calmed down a bit, the three of us began talking. I can’t even begin to remember what we talked about, but we talked... and talked... and talked. For a full thirty minutes the phones were jammed with people calling in with pledges of support. The spontaneous nature of Placido Domingo’s gesture coupled with Miss Verrett’s incredibly charismatic charm shot through the camera lens and touched thousands that night. It was – in a word – spectacular!

If you, too, never had the opportunity to see Shirley Verrett perform on the opera stage, I urge you to look at one of these clips. And then, tell us what you think. I’m also curious to know if you agree with me about the magic of YouTube. There are some amazing clips there if you know what to look for, don’t you think?