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American Songbook Festival returns

11 Jun 2015

American Songbook Festival returns Image

The Melbourne Recital Centre’s annual celebration of exceptional 20th century American song writing and artistry returns to Southbank on June 12 in what is set to be another special occasion.

This year’s lineup features another brilliant array of local and international artists who will pay homage to the glorious musical standards from Broadway, jazz, soul, cabaret and pop icons of 20th century America.

The festival will open with a bang on June 12 as Johanna Allen takes the stage to celebrate the music of Harold Arlen, before former member of legendary soul outfit The Supremes, Mary Wilson, takes centre stage on June 13.

The festival offers a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with Mary, as the cultural ambassador and iconic entertainer shares stories and songs from the breadth of her celebrated work.

The festival will also feature the subversive and sublime Storm Large, Australian musical theatre stars Michael Falzon and Bobby Fox, jazz master from the Roger Young Collective and more.

However, perhaps one of the most exciting names to feature this year will be closing the festival July 4, as countertenor diva Mama Alto performs at the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Salon Theatre.

Mama Alto is a local transgender and mixed-race singer who has been both captivating and inspiring Australian audiences since bursting onto the scene in 2012.

Drawing on the legacies of many other Songbook legends and from her own identity as a queer person of colour, she said her vocal and visual aesthetic aimed to inspire social change by transcending perceptions of gender and race.

“Hearing a voice that is expected to be or assigned to be feminine coming out of a person or a body that is expected to or assigned to be masculine confronts some people,” she said.

“I think that where all of the power in my performances comes from is that I’m unsettling those gender roles that we have to perform in society and it’s just by being myself.”

This year marks 100 years since the birth of one of Mama Alto’s greatest inspirations, Billie Holiday, who was one of the most influential vocalists to ever interpret the American Songbook.

In what will be Mama Alto’s debut at the Melbourne Recital Centre, she said she felt honoured to be able to pay tribute to one of her true heroes.  

“When Billie Holiday was singing in the 40s and 50s it was often the first positive and perception altering experience of a black queer woman for a white, middle-class, heterosexual American.”

“She wrote songs about the disenfranchised and gender, race and sexuality and those songs were made in the only way that she could find to speak out in a society where she was not very powerful but those songs made her powerful.”

“For me now singing those songs that they sung is not just about the pretty songs or about the musical genres or the glamour, glitter or the gowns and fur but it’s actually also about that legacy of social agents of change or social storytellers.”

For more information and to purchase tickets visit

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