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Emma Carus


Emma Carus defined what a variety singer was at the turn at the 20th century. Her vocal artistry had been honed in vaudeville, traversing North America from her native California to the Roof Gardens of Manhattan in 1894-95. Her performances married novelty with sincerity; the novelty dimension, a freakishly low end to her range that prompted some to bill her "the female baritone" early in her career, never ceased to amaze auditors. Yet her sassy, good humored way with a song enabled amazement to give way to sympathy. Her aspirations to artistry were most apparent in her campaign to have publicists refer to her as the "Young Melba" in the mid 1890s.

While a headliner at the vaudeville and burlesque theaters by 1897, Carus perfected the blues ballad as a stage form, and her ability to inflect these narratives with feeling became legendary among vaudevillians, as a model for emulation. Yet she was canny enough a performer to realize that different audiences filled the theatres each evening, and that she had to diversify her skills. She became a talented eccentric dancer, and when the coon song craze hit in the late 1890s, she seized upon it without embarrassment.

Young Eva Tanguay noted Carus' success and began her boisterous way on the stage after the more unbuttoned passages of Carus' act. While she appeared on Broadway relatively frequently in hybrid burlesque-musical shows, Carus' apotheosis as a performer took place in the first of the Ziegfeld Follies in 1907, when she starred as the prima donna. David S. Shields/ALS