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Jan Peerce

Jan Peerce in 1953

Jan Peerce (June 3, 1904 – December 15, 1984) was an American operatic tenor. Peerce was an accomplished performer on the operatic and Broadway concert stages, in solo recitals, and as a recording artist. He is the father of film director Larry Peerce.[1]


  • Family life 1
  • Concert career 2
  • Recordings 3
  • Film appearances 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Family life

Jan Peerce was born Joshua Pincus Perelmuth. His parents, Louis and Henya Perelmuth, came from the village of Horodetz, formerly in Poland, now Belarus.[2] Their first child, a daughter, died in an epidemic. In 1903 they emigrated to America along with their second child, a boy named Mottel. A year later, on June 3, 1904, their third child, Joshua Pincus was born in a cold water flat in the Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York. He was nicknamed "Pinky" by his neighborhood friends. When he was three years old, his older brother Mottel was killed in an accident as he hitched a ride on an ice wagon.[2] Jan remained on the Lower East Side until his 1930 marriage to Alice Kalmanovitz (1907-1994), a childhood friend. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School and Columbia University. At his mother's urging he took violin lessons,[2] and gave public performances, including dance band work as Jack "Pinky" Pearl. Sometimes he also sang and it was soon discovered he was an exceptional lyric tenor.

Peerce was the brother-in-law of fellow Jewish-American tenor Richard Tucker. He died at his home in New Rochelle, New York on December 15, 1984 at the age of 80.[3][4] Peerce is interred at Mount Eden Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County.

Concert career

Peerce studied singing in New York City with Ezio Pinza.[5]

Peerce performing at the microphone, c. 1950

Peerce joined the roster of principal tenors at the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company (PLSOC) in 1938. He made his professional opera debut with the company on December 10 of that year as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi's Rigoletto with Robert Weede in the title role and Fritz Mahler conducting. He also sang Alfredo in La traviata with Annunciata Garrotto as Violetta and Weede as Germont during the company's 1938-1939 season. Peerce sang in several more performance with the PLSOC through 1941, singing Pinkerton in Puccini's Madama Butterfly with Elda Ercole as Cio-Cio-San, and reprising the roles of the Duke and Alfredo a number of times.

In November 1939 Peerce performed his first solo recital in New York City. He made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera on November 29, 1941, singing Alfredo in Verdi's La traviata. He sang also the parts of Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca, Rodolfo in La bohème, and in Gounod's Faust. He was hailed by critics as the "All-American successor to the 'greats' of opera's almost extinct 'Golden Age'."

In 1943 he appeared in the Office of War Information film, Hymn of the Nations, with Toscanini, the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and the Westminster Choir in a performance of Verdi's seldom-heard choral work. Filmed in NBC Studio 8-H, the performance has been issued on video-cassette and DVD.

The headstone of Jan Peerce

During the 1950s Peerce performed regularly as a featured soloist before audiences of over 14,000 guests under the conductor Alfredo Antonini at the Lewisohn Stadium in New York City. These Italian Night open-air concerts featured the New York Philharmonic and the Lewisohn Stadium Orchestra along with such operatic luminaries as Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, and Eileen Farrell.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

In 1956 Peerce made a sensation in Moscow as a musical "cultural exchange" ambassador, being the first American to sing with the famed Bolshoi Opera. He remained on the roster of the Metropolitan until 1966, appearing again in 1966-1967. He also taught a master class. In 1971 he made his Broadway debut as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

The footstone of Jan Peerce

He continued to make occasional appearances until his retirement in 1982, remaining in fine voice. His last concert was on May 2, 1982, as the guest artist with the Beth Abraham Youth Chorale in Dayton, Ohio.[17]


Peerce's first recordings were made in 1931-1932, as a vocalist with New York area dance bands, using the names "Jack Pearl" and "Pinky Pearl." Several of these were with the Jack Berger Orchestra, with whom he was appearing at the Hotel Astor. They include popular hits of the day such as "Snuggled on Your Shoulder" and "Dancing on the Ceiling," and were issued on numerous smaller labels including Crown, Perfect, Banner and Melotone.[18]

Peerce recorded almost exclusively for RCA Victor as a "Red Seal" artist from the late 1930s to the early 1960s before switching labels. Among his first RCA Victor recordings were as a featured soloist in Nathaniel Shilkret's 1939 tribute album to Victor Herbert. The year before that Peerce had been the tenor soloist in Toscanini's broadcast concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, but it would be several years before the Maestro approved a recording of that symphony for commercial release.

Peerce as the Duke in Rigoletto

Peerce sang in Toscanini's 1944 performance/broadcast of Beethoven's Fidelio with Rose Bampton, followed by the complete performances of Verdi's La traviata, Puccini's La bohème (both with Licia Albanese), and Verdi's Un ballo in maschera (with Herva Nelli), all eventually released on LP and CD. Peerce did not sing in Toscanini's broadcasts of Verdi's Otello, Aida, or Falstaff; he was offered the tenor parts in the latter two but declined, believing his voice was not right for those roles. He also sang in the Madison Square Garden concert in 1944, which featured the final act of Rigoletto with Leonard Warren, Zinka Milanov, and Toscanini conducting the combined New York Philharmonic and NBC Symphony Orchestra; this performance was recorded and also released on LP and CD. In 1952, he participated in Toscanini's only studio recording of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, which the Maestro finally allowed to be released commercially on the RCA Victor label.

Among the operas Peerce recorded commercially for RCA Victor were Verdi's Rigoletto in 1950 with Leonard Warren singing the title role, Handelian.

For Over There".[19] Peerce titled his 1976 autobiography The Bluebird of Happiness: The Memoirs of Jan Peerce.

Film appearances

Peerce made a few film appearances, most notably in 1947's Something in the Wind, in which he plays Tony the jailer. In this role, Peerce sings the Miserere from Il trovatore in a duet with his jailed charge, the film's star, Deanna Durbin. This performance is available on DVD.


  1. ^ Larry Peerce
  2. ^ a b c Biographical sketch narrated by Jan's friend Isaac Stern
  3. ^ The Daily New Rochelle
  4. ^ "Jan Peerce - Opera Singer". Hollywood Star Walk. 
  5. ^ Toscanini Online
  6. ^ The New York Times, August 8, 1949, pg. 11
  7. ^ The New York Times, July 24, 1950, pg.26
  8. ^ The New York Times, July 11, 1952, pg. 13
  9. ^ The New York Times, July 18, 1952, pg. 10
  10. ^ The New York Times, July 20, 1953, pg. 14
  11. ^ The New York Times, July 10, 1954, pg. 6
  12. ^ The New York Times, June 12, 1955, pg. X7
  13. ^ The New York Times, May 14, 1958, pg. 36
  14. ^ The New York Times, July 30, 1958, pg. 19
  15. ^ The New York Times, May 6, 1959, pg. 48
  16. ^ The New York Times, May 14, 1959, pg. 29
  17. ^ Kopmar, Jerome (Dec 1984). "Jan Peerce: His Last Concert" (PDF). Journal of Synagogue Music (Cantors Assembly) 14 (2): 19–26. Retrieved 2010-11-26. 
  18. ^ Pinta, Emil R., "Early Dance-Band Vocals by Tenor Jan Peerce," ARSC Journal, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Fall 2012), 225-234.
  19. ^ Levy, Alan (1976). The Bluebird of Happiness: The Memoirs of Jan Peerce. Harper & Row. p. 115.  

External links

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