Carol Cramer: Teaching the world to sing

Tysons Today Talk of Tysons

At age three, Carol Cramer knew she was going to be a singer. She recalls the baby grand Steinway in the house and saying to her mother, “I’m going to be a singer when I grow up. PLEASE teach me the piano.” Her mother replied, “Stay away from that piano. It is for company to look at, not for you to play.” Unfortunately Carol had to wait. Even when she went to college and wanted to major in music, her mother prevailed and Carol majored in English. Finally, at the age of 27, Carol’s childhood premonition came true and she began to sing. At 81 she hasn’t stopped.

It turns out that the English classes at Butler helped launch her career. One day her professor talked about Todd Duncan, the original Porgy in Porgy and Bess, and in typical Carol Cramer fashion, she knew instantly that she wanted to work with Mr. Duncan. That’s how she found herself singing for Todd Duncan at 27. She couldn’t read music and she only knew one song, “My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair,” but she sang. Duncan reacted, “You have been sent to me by God.” Thus began a 12-year education. He always called her “darlin’,” she called him “papa.” “He made my life better,” says Carol. “I adore the man.” Lessons were $12.50 per lesson which was a considerable sum in 1960. Carol managed to take what Duncan taught her to teach her own student for $7.50 a lesson.

Carol also studied with Frances Yeend, Rosa Ponselle, Dr. Peter Herman Adler, and John Bullock (father of Sandra Bullock). She has sung many world premiere operas, and adores singing concerts and oratorios. Her favorite music, however, is not opera but the music of the 50’s and 60’s – Cole Porter, Henry Mancini, and others.

As an eight-year-old in Indianapolis Carol loved to read, especially a column by Roscoe Drummond entitled “The State of the Nation.” She continued to read it through high school. When she moved to D.C. she sang for years at the 5th Church of Christ, Scientist in Washington. Unbeknownst to her, Roscoe Drummond attended that church and one day her girlfriend held a party just so Carol could meet Mr. Drummond. Roscoe was taken with her, took her on one date, and the next day told Carol, “I have fallen in love. You and I will marry.” Her response was “Huh?” In spite of a 30-year age difference, they were married shortly after.

The marriage worked. She claims it was one of the three best things in her life, the other two being her adoption and her training/friendship with Todd Duncan. One evening Roscoe told her to “put on something nice” whereupon he took her to meet President and Mrs. Carter at the White House. “Everyone should understand that you can go in any direction you choose. Here I was, a poor, adopted kid from Indiana dining at the White House.”

Her resume is long: performing with the Washington Performing Arts Society for 34 years, appearing with the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Cathedral, Washington National Opera, Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, and others too numerous to mention. She was also host of the Sounding Board for station WGTS in Washington for seven years.

She has had her share of memorable moments over such a long career. Once while performing “Die Fledermaus” at the Lake George Opera Company, “my skirt fell off! I just kept on singing and at the end the audience gave me a standing ovation.” Another time she was performing at the Kennedy Center Opera House with a bowl of fruit on her head and a tambourine in hand. And then she dropped the tambourine. As the tambourine clattered along in slow motion the conductor glared but Carol stayed in character. After the performance the conductor said she would do anything to get attention.

These days she is also focused on teaching. She taught at the McLean School of Music for several years, teaches voice at Music and Arts, and is starting at a second Music and Arts next month. She also has a cadre of private students. In addition to singing, acting, and teaching, Carol’s career has included painting and writing. She has done several commercials. She also plans to take piano lessons until she “falls off the piano bench and dies.”

She says the key to life is to “keep busy all the time” and she certainly lives what she preaches.  “I’ve done the best I can,” she comments, “it’s the body that is getting old, not me!” Her approach to life is to be the best you can be, while making sure to harm no one, take advantage of no one, and be fair in all dealings. When she teaches, she covers more than voice, offering thoughts on manners, goodwill, and courtesy. “My positive nature has carried me through life. Don’t put your troubles on others. What’s the point? You’ll just bore everybody.”