The Great Caruso (born this day in 1873) was not only the greatest opera star of his age, but he was also the very first recording star — not just of opera, but of any sort. Already the king of Europe’s opera halls, in 1902 he made his first cylinders, becoming one of the first professional singers to do so. The popularity of his records made him an international sensation, which is why when he came to the U.S. on tour he not only played tony houses like the Metropolitan Opera, but he also took lucrative spots at top flight vaudeville houses like the Palace. The most famous Caruso vaudeville anecdote concerns stuttering dancer and comedian Joe Frisco, who once accosted the great tenor backstage: “Hey, Caruso, d-d-don’t d-d-do ‘Darktown Strutter’s Ball’. I’m using it for my f-f-finish.”
Unfortunately, his punishing workload took a huge toll on his body. He died of a bewildering multiplicity of medical conditions in 1921.
By the way…New Yorkers might want to know that there is an Enrico Caruso Museum deep in the heart of Brooklyn. The collection looks authoritative and well worth the trip for the rabid fan. Viewings are Sundays and by appointment only. More info can be found here.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including opera stars who performed there like Enrico Caruso, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.