[Dixielandjazz] William Warfield Dies

Don Mopsick mophandl@landing.com
Thu, 29 Aug 2002 17:17:33 -0500

Frequent Riverwalk guest artist William Warfield died on Sunday, August 25 at the
age of 82. According to the Associated Press, he died at the Rehabilitation
Institute of Chicago. His brother Thaddeus Warfield said that the cause was
complications from a broken neck suffered in a fall last month.

Among many other roles, Warfield narrated the stories of Porgy and Bess and Show
Boat on the Riverwalk, Live From The Landing Public Radio series. He and the Jim
Cullum Jazz Band presented live concerts in this format in many touring engagements
for about 10 years beginning in 1989. Warfield also read the letters of King Oliver
and the poetry of Langston Hughes on Riverwalk.

Warfield was best known for his portrayal of Joe the Dock Hand in the 1951 movie
version of Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat. He became almost as identified with
the song "Ol' Man River" as Paul Robeson had a generation earlier.

In 1952, Warfield performed in the title role in Porgy and Bess at the New York
City Opera, a production which later toured Europe sponsored by the U.S. State
Department. He played opposite the opera star Leontyne Price. They soon were
married but the demands of two separate careers left them little time together.
They divorced in 1972.

A 1963 recording of selections from Porgy and Bess with Ms. Price was one of his
most highly regarded. A performance of Aaron Copeland's "Old American Songs" with
the composer conducting has also remained an enduring favorite. In 1984 he received
a Grammy award for his narration of Copland's A Lincoln Portrait.

Prior to joining Northwestern University as a professor of music in 1994, Warfield
was the chair of the voice department at the University of Illinois.

Warfield was scheduled to sing at Carnegie Hall next March.

Don Mopsick says: "I was amazed by the rich quality of Warfield's lowest notes. He
sang "Ol' Man River" with us as an encore. When he got to the line "Gets a little
drunk and you lands in ja--il," he would slide down on that last syllable to a huge
low A-flat that would shake the room."

Jim Cullum says: "William Warfield was a great friend and will be missed."