Merrill, Robert 1919-2004
MERRILL, Robert 1919-2004
OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born June 4, 1919, in New York, NY; died October 23, 2004, in New York, NY. Opera singer and author. Merrill was one of the leading baritones of the opera world and enjoyed a long career at the New York Metropolitan Opera. The son of Polish immigrants who changed their names from Millstein to Miller when they came to America, Merrill was born Moishe Miller. He later changed his name to Merrill Miller and then to Robert Merrill when he began his operatic career. As a boy, Merrill first had aspirations of being a crooner of popular songs in the manner of Bing Crosby. One day, however, while working in Manhattan's garment district, he chanced to hear an opera rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera House. From that point on, he resolved to be an opera singer. His mother supported his efforts by paying for formal lessons, and Merrill soon found jobs performing on the radio. Eventually, he got a job at Radio City Music Hall and then with the NBC Concert Orchestra, where he performed his first opera, Giuseppe Verdi's Aïda. In 1944, he successfully auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera, and by 1946 was winning record contracts with RCA Victor. A temporary setback came in 1950, when Merrill almost lost his job permanently at the Met when he became enamored by Hollywood. He agreed to perform in a movie called Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick, and the shooting interfered with his touring obligations. The Met's general manager kicked him out of the company, until Merrill made several public apologies. Years afterward the singer remained embarrassed by his brief film career. In the meantime, he enjoyed fantastic success at the Met, performing over five hundred times, though he was often overshadowed by opera star Leonard Warren until Warren's death in 1969. Merrill remained with the Met until 1976, when he went into semi-retirement, only making occasional performances thereafter. The winner of two Grammys—in 1962 and 1964—Merrill also received the Handel Medal in 1970. He was the author of two memoirs, Once More from the Beginning (1965) and Between Acts: An Irreverent Look at Opera (1976), as well as the 1978 novel The Divas.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Merrill, Robert, Once More from the Beginning, Macmillan, 1965.
Merrill, Robert, Between Acts: An Irreverent Look at Opera, McGraw (Chicago, IL), 1976.
Chicago Tribune, October 26, 2004, Section 2, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2004, p. B8.
New York Times, October 26, 2004, p. A27.
Washington Post, October 27, 2004, p. B6.