Born: January 2, 1904; Moultrie, GA
Died: April 21, 1961; New York, NY
Georgia-born light tenor James Melton was raised in Citra, FL. Melton made the round of voice teachers at universities in the American South before he got his start in minor New York vaudeville around 1925. At the time, he was studying with Enrico Rosati, famous for being the teacher of Beniamino Gigli. After a stint singing and playing saxophone in the Francis Craig Orchestra in Atlanta, Melton returned to New York to sing on radio andRead more ultimately joined the singing group the Revelers, and in the short term this brought considerable fame and fortune to Melton at an early age. With the advent of the Great Depression and the rise of crooners, the popularity of groups like the Revelers waned, and Melton decided to go into motion pictures, as Lawrence Tibbett and Nelson Eddy had done. After appearing in some mediocre programmers, Melton opted for the stage and made his opera debut at the Cincinnati Zoo Summer Opera in 1938. By 1942 he was singing as a regular cast member at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and this continued until 1950, when Rudolf Bing assumed the duties of general manager. Bing's first priority was to rid the Met stable of popular-styled singers like Melton to make room for more "legitimate" talent, such as Maria Callas.
Melton had made a lot of money throughout his career and had sunk most of it into expensive and rare automobiles. Therefore, when his stage career ended, he took what capital he had left and opened the Autorama, a vintage car museum in Hypoluxo, FL, that was one of the first of its kind. However, the highway that ultimately went through the area bypassed Hypoluxo; that, and Melton's alleged bad habits, doomed the enterprise. Melton's collection was broken up after he died, swimming in debt and still relatively young, at age 57.
In his prime, Melton's fine light tenor voice was often compared to John McCormack's, and he was enormously popular in the so-called Golden Age of Radio. His recording activity spans some 30 years, from 1927 to 1957, and while they are not always invested in repertoire that holds up well, his singing voice is consistently solid for most of it. While several "straight" singers dipped into the well of the popular -- including Lawrence Tibbett and McCormack -- James Melton was one of a very rare few in his time to move from popular music into opera at its highest level. Read less
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