Longhorn Music has released “Queenie Pie,” the premiere recording of Duke Ellington’s only opera, featuring renowned jazz vocalist Carmen Bradford in the title role.
This release is the only commercial recording of Ellington’s opus. University of Texas at Austin faculty scholars reconstructed “Queenie Pie” from incomplete scores specifically for a production by the Butler Opera Center in spring 2009. This recording of “Queenie Pie” features the same award-winning cast as the 2009 live production, under the baton of Jeff Hellmer.
The opera’s big band sound and clever lyrics make it fun, but the story behind the album really makes it swing. Ellington began writing “Queenie Pie” late in life and he left the score unfinished at his death in 1974. More than 35 years later, scholars at the university’s Butler School of Music worked with Ellington’s friend and “Queenie Pie” co-author Betty McGettigan to reconstruct and finish the opera. While other versions of the work had been performed before, McGettigan considered this version to be closest to Ellington’s original vision. Before her death in October 2009, McGettigan called this recording of “Queenie Pie” her “authorized version” of the opera.
Jazz great Bradford brings her legendary voice to the title role of “Queenie Pie,” and University of Texas at Austin alumnus and rising Broadway star Keithon Gipson plays the show’s male lead. Students from the Butler School of Music and neighboring Huston-Tillotson University compose the remainder of the cast, with the UT Jazz Orchestra in the pit. Besides a stellar cast and swingin’ big band, “Queenie Pie” features pages of full color pictures of the production along with program notes from the scholars who helped bring the opera to life.
The Butler Opera Center production of “Queenie Pie” received critical acclaim; Music Director Hellmer and costume designer Michael Hite won 2009 Austin Critic’s Table Awards for their work on the show, and Butler School students Morgan Beckford (Café Olay) and Conor Brace (trumpet, “Creole Love Song”) were nominated for their performances.
“Queenie Pie” is available commercially via iTunes and other retailers. Longhorn Music, the official record label of the Butler School of Music, has earned a reputation for releasing exciting and engaging performances of classical music. The label aspires to capture the best musical moments offered by the Butler School and to distribute them to audiences worldwide. A catalog of the label’s releases can be found online.