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The Emperor Jones
The Packard Hour
Broadcast: WJZ, New York - Tuesday, October 16, 1934
Louis Gruenberg's operatic adaptation

Brutus Jones - Lawrence Tibbett
Smithers - Alfred Shirley

In the 1930s, the Packard Motor Car Company sponsored a number of expensive concert and variety shows on network radio. Like other luxury car manufacturers, it hoped to reach an affluent, educated audience. From 1934 to 1936, Packard's headliner was the prominent opera star Lawrence Tibbett whose repertoire for this weekly forty-five minute variety program consisted not only of grand and light opera but also folk songs, cowboy ballads, Negro spirituals, Tin Pan Alley pop and Broadway show tunes.

Publicity for the series' September 25, 1934 premiere suggested that Tibbett would "be starred in a new triple role" as singer, actor (recreating his stage and film roles) and raconteur (of "anecdotes about himself and celebrities he has known"). Metropolitan Opera conductor Wilfred Pelletier would direct the music and newsman John B. Kennedy, "noted editor and radio commentator," would host and interact with Tibbett. [September 24, 1934 Kingston (Jamaica) Daily Gleaner]

Publicity for the "Emperor Jones" broadcast indicated that English actor Alfred Shirley would play the role of Smithers and that Tibbett would also sing Ben Jonson's "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes." [October 16, 1934 The Washington Post]

Interestingly, a Massachusetts concert scheduled for two nights before the broadcast was canceled "owing to the illness of Mr. Tibbett." [October 15, 1934 North Adams (MA) Transcript] The following month, newspapers report Tibbett canceling concerts in Texas and returning to New York to treat an inflamed larynx. [November 16, 1934 Abilene (TX) Daily Reporter; and others]

Until December, the series was broadcast "only in the East and Midwest" but, by Christmas, it had been renewed for the winter, reduced to thirty minutes, and "released" to the West coast. [December 25, 1934 Oakland (CA) Tribune]


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