As the title character in his film Danny Rose (1984), Woody Allen is a hapless talent agent known for his plethora of oddball, hard-to-book novelties: a blind xylophone player, a stuttering ventriloquist, a balloon folder — and Gloria Parker, the Music plays by rubbing the rims of 28 crystal wine glasses with her moistened fingers.
“She’s the Jascha Heifetz of that instrument,” Danny says in one scene, introducing her to the skeptical summer resort owner while performing “The Band Played On.” “It’s amazing. Never taken any classes. She’s self-taught. Next year, my hand on God, she’ll be at Carnegie Hall.”
Miss Parker later said that the film – in which she also appears for Danny’s clientele at a Thanksgiving dinner – led to a surge in booking offers and increased awareness of her mastery of “singing glasses,” or glassplay, from which she learned Your grandfather.
“The film will keep her alive” she told the New York Times in 1984. “I am only an emissary, God’s worker, to bring eyeglasses to the world.”
Miss Parker died April 13 at a hospital in Syosset, NY, on Long Island, near her home in Laurel Hollow. She was 100.
Her friend Jean Lundy confirmed the death.
Miss Parker didn’t just flatter music out of glasses. A multi-instrumentalist, she also played marimba, vibraphone, fiddle, maracas and tabor, a type of drum.
She was leading an all-female troupe by age 14 and fronted the all-female Rumba Maids in the 1940s and the Afrikan Knights Orchestra in the 1960s.
In the 1940s She acted in several Soundies, short music films shown on coin-operated jukeboxes. In these films, she sang, played glasses and marimba, and shared the stage with co-stars such as Mel Whitec, the virtuoso voice actor, and Lincoln Perry, better known as Stepin Fetchit.
She hosted a show on ABC radio station in the 1950s that featured another all-women band, the Swingphony. And she was a prolific songwriter, many with a Latin beat, like “Up and Down Mambo” and “The Push and Pull Mambo.” Another song, “Clap Your Hands and Shake Your Blues Away”, was recorded by Lionel Hampton.
In 1981 she recorded the album A Toast to Christmas in the 80’s With Singing Glasses.
Gloria Rosenthal was born on August 20, 1921 in Brooklyn. Her father Jack owned a garage; Her mother, Rose (Glickman) Rosenthal, played violin with Mark Warnow & the Hit Parade Orchestra. Gloria later adopted Parker as her stage name.
Gloria began studying the violin at a young age (she said she was playing a child-sized instrument when she was 4 or 5 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music). She learned to play glass at age 8 from her grandfather, who had brought the skill (and eight fragile Bohemian crystal glasses) from his native Czechoslovakia.
“When I was a little girl,” Miss Parker told United Press International in 1984, “I had a musical vaudeville act that played both glasses and the marimba.”
She mastered conjuring up music from 28 glasses, each filled with water or white wine, to create specific sounds.
“A drop in either direction makes a difference” She told The Daily News of New York in 2012. “Height, range – everything makes a difference in sound.”
She rubbed her fingers along the rims of the glasses to create a two-octave musical range while playing pop, classical, jazz, and calypso songs.
In addition to playing her glasses on Broadway Danny Rose, Miss Parker has guest-starred on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and Late Night With David Letterman.
“We booked her because of her interesting talent, but when she showed up with the big setup it was very impressive,” wrote Robert Morton, then executive producer of Late Night, in an email. “We loved the little dance she did while playing and how worried she was that nobody was touching the setup.”
In 1979 she performed with the Hartford Symphony at a pop concert.
“MS. Parker, with her long blond hair, created an impressive spectacle as she struggled with her glasses and somehow coaxed high notes into melodic, even fast-paced passages,” wrote critic Owen McNally of her performance in The Hartford Courant.
No immediate family members survive.
Miss Parker’s dedication to her music – and her reputation – has led her to several court battles. In 1965, she and a co-writer, Barney Young, sued the Walt Disney Corporation for $12 million, accusing them of pirate copying their 1949 song.Supercalafajalistickespeeaaladojus‘ for the hit film Mary Poppins (1964), in which Julie Andrews sang ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.
A judge ruled against her and Mr Young’s request for an injunction, saying they had not filed a copyright infringement case because, aside from their similar tongue-twisting names, the two songs had “no discernible resemblance.”
In 1990, she sued author Oscar Hijuelos for defamation of several passages she said reflected poorly on her in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1989 novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love. In the novel, a character is referred to as the leader of “Glorious Gloria Parker and Her All-Girl Rumba Orchestra” – the real name of a band she once led – and is involved in a late-night romantic scene.
“My background has nothing to do with what this man said,” Miss Parker told Newsday after filing the lawsuit. “I travel in good company. He hurt and crushed me.”
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.
Working on Broadway Danny Rose was a more comfortable experience for her — even though she didn’t know the film’s plot when she signed.
“We were only given one script for a day and I had no idea what was happening,” she told the Times. When asked if the finished film made her feel like Mr. Allen had mocked her art, she dismissed the notion.
“Well, no one can make fun of the glasses,” she added. “Benjamin Franklin played them – he actually introduced them to America in 1751. They are part of our heritage. And now, through the film, the whole world can see them in the 20th century, and I’m going to be the person who clings to them.”