Sunday, February 22, 2015


10th Anniversary Photo 1988/

Back on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2008 I wrote about Louis Botto’s and my singing two of the solos in Henry Purcell’s Rejoice in the Lord Alway, when our Dean Stanley Rodgers died in the middle of the service at Grace Cathedral. Louis and I had sung several other Purcell solos and duets together. We were the altos in The Community Music Center’s performance of “Come, Ye Sons of Art” back in 1976. (That was when I first met Jonathan Klein, who sang in the chorus.)

Later we repeated our duet Sound the Trumpet in Grace Cathedral Choir’s performance of “Come, Ye Sons of Art.” We alternated singing the other alto solos.

Although Chanticleer today always describes Louis as a tenor, in fact, he and I were the original altos in the group. I was first alto and he, second. In those early days we frequently lowered keys for some Renaissance music by as much as a major third. That was until Randy Wong joined and we had our first genuine soprano. I moved up to second soprano; but I really always was just a high alto. (You can hear me on soprano singing with Randy in the Josquin de Pres “Ave Maria” on Psallite.)

I first met Louis in 1974-75 when he moved to San Francisco from Washington D.C. with a law professor, Jerry Witherspoon, who became a professor at Boalt Hall. Jerry had formerly been the president of a small college in Vermont. I think it was Middlebury or Bennington. Anyway, when he came to terms with himself and got divorced, he eventually lived with Louis in D.C. They then moved to San Francisco together and lived at the Belgravia Apartments on Sutter Street-- just down the hill from Grace Cathedral.

Louis had been married and divorced, too. I met his former wife, Jan, when Chanticleer first sang in Corpus Christi, Texas near the end of the autumn tour in 1981. Louis later married a second time. It was after he broke up with Rick Cohen and needed a place to live. A Japanese photographer at the Fairmont Hotel needed a green card. So they secretly married – and I guess it worked out for the two of them. I can’t remember her name. It was something like Umi.— but that’s not it, sorry. (I do remember that she trained her cat to use the toilet.)

I’ve jumped ahead. Louis had just joined the choir at Grace when I met him. He was a graduate student at then Dominican College (now University) in San Rafael. He was studying voice with Marian Marsh, with whom I sang the leads in Handel’s Acis and Galatea with Donald Pippin at the Old Spaghetti Factory (now called Bocce, where I used to eat lunch between services most Sundays with the Schola Cantorum at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. Coincidentally, we had at least seven or eight Chanticleer alumni sing with the Schola Cantorum at different times.). Before Chanticleer, Louis had a Renaissance trio called Unicorn with a soprano named Jill and a lute player.

I remember when Louis met Rick Cohen, who also sang in the choir at Grace. Rick lived on 20th Street, just a few blocks from me, and used to give me a ride to church on Sundays. And I remember when Rick consulted me as to whether it was right for him to try to woo Louis away from Jerry. I don’t recall exactly what I said.

I do recall being invited to dinner at Louis and Jerry’s at the Belgravia in February or early March 1977. Louis cooked one of his fabulous dinners— that time East Indian. It was then that I was introduced to John Mihaly, and I believe it was at that dinner that I first heard John talk about his idea for a new men’s vocal ensemble that would merge two traditions – the repertoire of the King’s Singers—that quintet of former choral scholars from King’s College Cambridge – and the size and informality of Yale singing groups, of which I was very familiar since I had sung with the Yale Spizzwinks. John had just dropped out of Yale Divinity School. I learned from Fenno Heath at the 9Oth Spizzwink Reunion nine years ago that the King’s Singers had been artists in residence at Yale when John was there.

Now officially Chanticleer management has asserted that Chanticleer was founded by Louis Botto. Certainly, Louis made Chanticleer. Without him, we probably would have folded after the second concert. But as I am in a unique position to know, Louis took an idea presented by John Mihaly and ran with it. And even at our first meeting and rehearsal in my dining room on 23rd Street on Wednesday 22 February 1978, the first words were spoken by John Mihaly, not Louis. Of course, this was years before Joseph Jennings joined, or, in fact, anybody else currently connected with Chanticleer. But the official line is set. So be it. But I think the Chanticleer office should know the truth, if only for themselves.

The awkward part was that John Mihaly wasn’t a particularly good baritone; so we made him our business manager. Regrettably, he turned out to be even worse as a manager. When Tom Hart joined he suggested getting a real business manager in Susan Endrezzi. So we fired our actual founder!

From this first-hand experience, I now find myself extremely skeptical of any birth narratives, be they Biblical Gospels or American fables--as in George Washington and that quaint cherry tree (after all, this is Washington's birthday... depending on which calendar you use.... on the old Julian Calendar it was February 11th.) The actual facts are usually too complicated and convoluted; so an official line is adopted -- and for the most part, it generally works. It certainly is simpler.

Personally, I feel that John Mihaly should, at least, be acknowledged for originating the idea of Chanticleer. But he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Last heard, he was in upstate New York. And he was always prone to various illnesses; so I doubt he’s still alive.

Again, Louis Botto-- though not the actual founder-- was responsible for making Chanticleer what it is today.

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