Stephanie Blythe appears in Bay Area Cabaret’s season opening concert “We’ll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith.” (Courtesy photo)

Opera’s Stephanie Blythe celebrates legacy of Kate Smith

Stephanie Blythe is popping up all over San Francisco lately. She made a surprise appearance at the San Francisco Symphony gala opening last week. She’s also spent the last month delivering a spectacular performance as Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” at the San Francisco Opera.

“Singing Lovett is the fulfillment of a longtime dream,” says Blythe, who is living another dream on Sunday, reviving her one-woman show on Kate Smith for Bay Area Cabaret’s season-opener at the Venetian Room.

“This is the stuff I always wanted to do,” she says. “I started out wanting to be a musical theater singer and to sing popular music.”

Blythe, whose father was a jazz musician, adds, “The music I heard growing up was not opera.”

However, as she studied music, she began listening to Placido Domingo. “There was something about his singing and his presentation — the dedication to text and to character — that made me want to be an opera singer.”

Before that, the teenage Blythe was a fan of music from the 1920s through the ‘50s and she became captivated by Smith. “I liked her sound. I liked her look. She was a large woman, something I could identify with. There was something so fresh about her.”

Dubbed “The Songbird of the South” – a topic of discussion in Blythe’s show – Kate Smith’s career kicked off in the 1930s with “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” which ironically became a hit for the plus-size Cass Elliot in the ‘60s.

Smith became a major recording and radio star and other signature hits included the debut of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and “When the Moon Comes over the Mountain.” Smith was also popular on television in the 1950s and ‘60s with eponymous variety and talk shows.

Her overly ebullient style made her ripe for parody, but Blythe sees it differently. “I like the sincerity. I like fact that when she came on the radio and said, ‘Hello, everybody! This is Kate Smith!’ there was something instantly recognizable, something that said, ‘I’m an American singer.’ She’s steeped in such beautiful nostalgia.”

When Smith died in 1979, the New York Times noted that she had recorded over 3,000 songs and introduced “over a thousand, of which 600 or so made the hit parade.” That legacy has given Blythe ample working capital for Sunday’s show.

“I love the literature,” says Blythe. “The songs are so phenomenal. Granted, not everything she sang was a hit, but for the most part, she hit it out of the park.”

IF YOU GO
Stephanie Blythe
Presented by Bay Area Cabaret
Where: Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4
Tickets: $50 to $70
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.bayareacabaret.org

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