As the title character in his film “Broadway Danny Rose” (1984), Woody Allen is a hapless talent agent known for his array of strange, hard-to-book novelties: a blind xylophone player, a stammering ventriloquist, a balloon folder — and Gloria Parker, who music plays by rubbing her moistened fingers along the rims of 28 crystal wine glasses.
“She’s the Jascha Heifetz of this instrument,” Danny says in one scene, playing “The Band Played On” against the skeptical summer resort owner. “It’s unbelievable. Never had a class. This is self-taught. Next year, my hand to God, she’ll be at Carnegie Hall.”
Miss Parker would later say that the film — in which she also performs for Danny’s clientele at a Thanksgiving dinner — sparked an increase in booking offerings and more focus on her mastery of the “singing glasses,” or glass piel, which she learned from her grandfather.
“The movie will keep them alive,” she told DailyExpertNews in 1984. “I am but an emissary, God’s worker to bring glasses to the world.”
Miss Parker died on April 13 at a hospital in Syosset, NY, on Long Island, near her home in Laurel Hollow. She was 100.
Her friend Jean Lundy confirmed the death.
Miss Parker didn’t just elicit music from glasses. As a multi-instrumentalist she also played marimba, vibraphone, violin, maracas and tabor, a kind of drum.
She led an all-female group when she was 14 and fronted the all-female Rumba Maids in the 1940s and the Afrikan Knights Orchestra in the 1960s.
In the 1940s, she starred in several Soundies, short music films shown on coin-operated jukeboxes. In those films, she sang, played the goggles and marimba, and shared the stage with co-stars such as Mel Blanc, the virtuoso voice actor, and Lincoln Perry, better known as Stepin Fetchit.
She hosted a show on the ABC radio network in the 1950s with another all-female band, the Swingphony. And she was a prolific writer of songs, many of them with a Latin beat, such as ‘Up and Down Mambo’ and ‘The Push and Pull Mambo’. Another song, “Clap Your Hands and Shake Your Blues Away”, was recorded by Lionel Hampton.
In 1981 she recorded an album, “A Toast to Christmas in the 80’s With Singing Glasses.”
Gloria Rosenthal was born on August 20, 1921 in Brooklyn. Her father, Jack, had a garage; her mother, Rose (Glickman) Rosenthal, played violin with Mark Warnow & the Hit Parade Orchestra. Gloria later adopted Parker as her stage name.
At a young age, Gloria began studying the violin (she said she played a child-sized instrument at the Brooklyn Academy of Music when she was 4 or 5 years old). At the age of 8, she began learning to play the glasses from her grandfather, who had brought the skill (and eight fragile Bohemian crystal glasses) from his native Czechoslovakia.
“When I was a little girl,” Miss Parker told United Press International in 1984, “I had a musical vaudeville act that played both the goggles and the marimba.”
She mastered how to conjure music from 28 glasses, each filled with water or white wine to produce certain sounds.
“A drop makes a difference anyway,” she told The Daily News of New York in 2012. “Height, circumference – it all makes a difference in sound.”
She ran her fingers over the rim of the glasses to produce a two-octave musical range as she played pop, classical, jazz and calypso numbers.
In addition to playing her glasses in “Broadway Danny Rose,” Miss Parker was a guest on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Mike Douglas Show,” and “Late Night With David Letterman.”
“We booked her based on her interesting talent, but when she showed up with the big set up, it was very impressive,” Robert Morton, then executive producer of “Late Night” wrote in an email. “We loved the little dance she did while playing and how she made sure no one was touching the set-up.”
In 1979 she performed with the Hartford Symphony at a pop concert.
“Mrs. Parker, with her long blond hair, provided a striking spectacle as she worked over her glasses and somehow seduced the pitch into melodic, even up-tempo passages,” wrote reviewer Owen McNally of her performance in The Hartford Courant.
No immediate relatives survive.
Miss Parker’s dedication to her music – and her reputation – led her to several lawsuits. In 1965, she and a co-writer, Barney Young, sued the Walt Disney Corporation for $12 million, accusing the company of illegally copying their 1949 song “Supercalafajalisticespeeaaladojus” for the hit film “Mary Poppins” (1964), in which Julie Andrews sang “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
A judge ruled against her and Mr. Young’s request for a preliminary injunction, saying they had not pleaded for copyright infringement because, other than their similar tongue-twisting names, the two songs “had no discernible resemblance.”
In 1990, she sued author Oscar Hijuelos for libel over several passages she said misrepresented her in his 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love.” In the novel, a character is referred to as the leader of “Glorious Gloria Parker and Her All-Girl Rumba Orchestra” – the real name of a band she once led – and is involved in a romantic night scene.
“My background has nothing to do with what this man has said,” Ms. Parker told Newsday after she filed the lawsuit. “I travel in good company. He hurt and crushed me.”
A federal judge dismissed the suit.
Working on “Broadway Danny Rose” was a more enjoyable experience for her – even though she was unaware of the film’s plot when she applied.
“We only got one day script at a time, and I had no idea what was going on,” she told The Times. When asked if the finished film made her feel like Mr. Allen had mocked her art, she rejected the idea.
“Well, nobody can make fun of the glasses,” she added. “Benjamin Franklin played them — even introduced them to America in 1751. They’re part of our heritage. And now, through the movie, the whole world can see them in the 20th century, and I’ll be the person who’s on them.” applied.”