Florence Foster Jenkins was a wealthy socialite who wanted to be a famous singer. However, there was one problem: she was a terrible singer. She performed opera in front of hundreds of people, but little did she know that the audience wasn’t applauding because she was a splendid performer. Everyone knew that she was a bad singer, except for her.
Florence was born in 1868 into a wealthy family in Pennsylvania. As a child, she played the piano very well and showed an interest in singing, but her father refused to give her money to go to music school. Disappointed that her parents didn’t want to support her desire to study music, Florence left home and married a much older man, Dr. Frank Thornton Jenkins. She caught syphilis from him, and the pair separated soon after.
After the divorce, Florence supported herself by working as a piano teacher. In 1900, she moved to New York where she started to sing. When her father died in 1909, Florence inherited a huge fortune. She was finally able to pursue a singing career. Around the same time, she met St. Clair Bayfield, a British actor who became her partner and her manager.
Besides the fact that Florence had neither a sense of rhythm nor the ability to carry a tune and reach the upper registers in pitch, she vigorously undertook a professional career. She regularly performed in front of the members of the social club Verdi, which she herself founded. Although her singing was awful, the members of the club greeted her with enthusiasm. She gave performances for decades, but no serious music critics reviewed these performances.
When performing, Florence would wear amusing costumes which she personally designed. The most famous of these costumes was an elaborate confection of tulle and tinsel with huge golden wings attached.
It seemed that Florence never doubted her excellence. She performed the toughest arias and specialized in the works of Verdi, Brahms, and Mozart. She even published a professional audio record which received terrible reviews from the critics. However, this did not stop Florence from giving her first truly public recital in 1944. For this purpose, she rented the Carnegie Hall, New York’s most prestigious concert venue.
The concert was public, and anyone who wished to listen to her could buy a ticket. The interest was enormous. Three thousand tickets were quickly sold, and more than two thousand ticket seekers were turned down. This was the fastest sold-out concert in the hall’s history. The hall was filled to capacity. Among the guests, there were some famous faces including Cole Porter, Lily Pons, Gian Carlo Menotti, and Kitty Carlisle.
Although Florence was pleased with her performance, the full r`eality of the evening began to sink in when she read the reviews the next day. The reviewers ridiculed her performance. Florence was crushed. The next day she had a heart attack, and one month later she died.
A movie that celebrates Florence’s life was released last year. Meryl Streep portrays Florence and has been nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 2017 Oscars for her performance.