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Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (2)  | Trivia (17)  | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (4)

Born in Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died in New York City, New York, USA  (natural causes)
Birth NameMoishe Miller
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (1)

One of the Metropolitan Opera's most enduring and acclaimed baritones, Brooklyn-born Robert Merrill was born Moishe Miller on June 4, 1919 (some sources list 1917), the son of Polish émigrés. His father, Abraham, was a shoe salesman and mother Lillian was an operatic soprano who performed in concert before her marriage. His parents changed their last name to Miller upon their arrival in the United States. His mother was the one who encouraged and guided Robert during his early operatic training after an initially promising career as a semipro pitcher subsided. Overweight and unhappy as a child, he was further hampered by a stuttering problem that only went away when he sang. His first audition for the Metropolitan Opera in 1941 was not successful. He made ends meet by singing for bar mitzvahs and weddings. Robert finally made his operatic debut in 1944 voicing the role of Amonasro in "Aida" in Trenton, New Jersey, then successfully joined the Met the following year, taking his first company bow in December as Germont in "La Traviata." Displaying an amazingly vigorous yet smooth and effortless baritone, other roles in his standard repertoire would include the title role in "Rigoletto," Figaro in "The Barber of Seville," "Tonio in "Pagliacci" and Escamillo in "Carmen." He was deemed one of the finest Verdi baritones of his generation. Unlike most of his peers, Robert extended himself willingly into the radio, film, nightclub and TV arenas. He even performed in Vegas. A featured soloist on radio's RCA Victor Show in 1946, he abandoned the Met for a time to jump at a chance to co-star in a film. This led to a volatile falling out with the Met's general manager, Rudolf Bing. Robert's part in the innocuously-titled Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952) with Dinah Shore and Alan Young (Mister Ed (1958)), in which he played an on-the-lam crook, was an unmitigated disaster. Realizing his mistake, he returned quickly to the company after several public apologies to Mr. Bing. Robert's first marriage to the Met's reigning soprano, Roberta Peters, lasted but three months. They remained friends, however, and would perform together from time to time. They were both frequent guests on Ed Sullivan's variety show, The Ed Sullivan Show (1948), during the 1950s and 1960s. Two children were born from his second marriage to pianist Marion Machno. Robert continued to sing at the Met until 1976, performing sporadically after that as a recitalist. He died of natural causes in 2004.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (2)

Marion Machno (1954 - 23 October 2004) ( his death) ( 2 children)
Roberta Peters (30 March 1952 - 26 June 1952) ( divorced)

Trivia (17)

Best known for his full, effortless baritone voice.
Had aspirations of being a baseball player; was a huge baseball fan.
Opera singer. Debut with New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1945.
Co-wrote, with Fred Jarvis, the novel "The Divas" in 1978. The novel, a roman a clef about the romantic comings and goings in a major opera company, sold moderately well.
His desire to branch into movie stardom, in the 1951 film Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952), brought him into direct conflict with the Metropolitan Opera's autocratic General Manager, Sir Rudolf Bing. Making the film would have conflicted with some of Merrill's Met assignments. Bing felt that grand opera and the movies did not mix, having fired Met mainstays Lauritz Melchior and Helen Traubel for similar reasons earlier. When Merrill refused to budge in the matter, he was also fired. Eighteen months later, the film having failed at the box office, Merrill was reinstated only after practically begging Bing for another chance. Relations between the two men were cordial, but never really friendly, after that. Merrill retired shortly after celebrating his 30th anniversary with the Met in 1975.
He retired from the Met in 1976 but returned to its stage in 1983, when the company marked its centennial.
Was a lifelong Yankees fan. Beginning in 1969, he followed a tradition that lasted three decades, singing the season-opener rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Yankee Stadium.
Earned admiration for his interpretations of dozens of operatic roles, including Escamillo in "Carmen" and Figaro in "The Barber of Seville," reportedly his favorite opera.
Sang with popular stars ranging from Frank Sinatra to Louis Armstrong. He performed as a soloist with many of the world's great conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, and made appearances for several presidents, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
A lifetime baseball fan, whose recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before New York Yankees home games for three decades, Merrill died while at home watching the first game of the 2004 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox.
His lifelong passion for baseball led to his long tenure at Yankee Stadium, where he sang the national anthem on opening day for three decades. Ironically, he died peacefully at home while watching the first game of the world series between the St. Louis Cardinals and, the eventual winners, the Boston Red Sox.
First inspired to sing as a teenager when he wandered in off the street to the Met and caught a performance of "Il Trovatore."
First singing role model was Bing Crosby.
Remained in the shadows of baritone Leonard Warren during his early years at the Met. Following Warren's sudden death onstage at the Met in 1960, Merrill became the principal baritone.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 364-365. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
He was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6763 Hollywood Blvd.
Upon his death, his remains were interred at Sharon Gardens Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County, New York. His location plot is Temple Israel New Rochelle, Block F, Lot 12A, space 1.

Personal Quotes (2)

Vocally, there is no reason why you cannot sing for 30 or 40 years. I'm going to go on as long as I'm enjoying it, as long as I'm having a ball.
I keep feeling that I'm just beginning, that I'm just a beginner. I've never taken the Met for granted. At the old house, whenever I walked in, I had that marvelous feeling--what am I doing here, a kid from Brooklyn?

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