You might know actress Irene Dunne (1898-1990) from her movies. I have yet to see any of her dramatic films; her hilarious comedic turn with Cary Grant as a sparring couple in The Awful Truth was my introduction to her. And she was one of the reasons why I watched the fashion show musical Roberta where she sang her hit “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” She had a lovely voice which is why I’m so glad that the UK record label Sepia has recently compiled and released a CD of recordings of hers from the 1930s and 40s. The album, titled Irene Dunne Sings Kern and Other Rarities, mostly features tunes by Jerome Kern (1885-1945) who was most famous as the composer of the musical Show Boat.
Dunne’s voice was certainly a well-honed tool: she attended the Chicago Musical College on a scholarship and auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera in NYC (see Wes D. Gehring’s fawning Irene Dunne: First Lady of Hollywood for more biographical info). Unfortunately, some folks might describe Dunne’s vocal style as “dated.” So what? What’s wrong with a musical style that defines an era? I think of it as a bridge between the ultra-rounded vowels of classically trained singers and the brassier, wide-mouthed style of later musical theater. Give it an ear or two and see what you think. My favorite tune on the disc, “Lovely to Look At” (from Roberta), is proof enough for me that Dunne is also lovely to listen to.