September 2023

Croissants and DarkRoast Coffee


Arthur Danin Adler

And add a sip of cognac.

"Carry a torch" is an early 20th century American phrase that flamed up in the 1920's Jazz Age (and thereafter) as a popular song-style, both written and sung: The Torch Song.

Many, many Torch Songs were written and many, many singers sang and recorded them from Billie Holiday to Roy Orbison. Fittingly, the definitive Torch Song album is Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely (1958).

Of all the Torch singers from the '20s and '30s, Helen Morgan uniquely captured the Torch song and the song-style in a strange, self-defining, more than moving way.


She didn't have the best voice, or perfect pitch, or the remarkable musical phrasing of Holiday and Sinatra, but she could deliver a song that was so initimately torched, so privately burnt that it lingered long after the music stopped. Like Holiday, Morgan lived what she sang with her inner life wide open. She delivered in a way that her listeners could "see" as well hear.
Her life caught up to her and ended at age 41.

Polly Bergen died at 84. She was a fine singer and a good actress. She was acclaimed for her award-winning portrayal of Helen Morgan's life on the famed Playhouse 90 television series and for a beautiful award-winning album of Helen Morgan's songs.


She came close but couldn't quite capture what Morgan did... simply because she didn't live the life.

The burning heart - loneliness from love lost, love remembered, forgotten dreams.The Torch Song is gone. Probably because the audience for it is dying out. More so, there are few, if any, singers today who can deliver a song with only a piano behind them or a subdued trio... no throbbing percussion, no ejaculating bass, just the singer and her lyrics. It's a sad loss. The burning heart is as lonely as ever.


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Arthur Danin Adler is a playwright, writer and the founding Editor of Scene4. For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.


©2023 Arthur Danín Adler
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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