Tibbett, Lawrence, 1896-1960, American baritone, b. Bakersfield, Calif. He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1923. After a successful appearance as Ford in Verdi's Falstaff, he was given leading roles and became especially noted for those he created in American operas, including Louis Gruenberg's Emperor Jones (1933) and the operas of Deems Taylor. He was outstanding in the revival (1932) of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Beginning with The Rogue Song (1930) he appeared in a number of motion pictures and was long popular as a radio singer. In 1936 he helped found the American Guild of Musical Artists, of which he became president.
Lawrence Mervil Tibbett (November 16, 1896 - July 15, 1960) was an American opera singer, movie actor, radio personality and recording artist. He sang with the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1923 until the 1950s, performing roles ranging from Iago in Otello to Captain Hook in Peter Pan. As a baritone, Tibbett is acknowledged as one of the greatest opera singers produced by the United States, and one of the finest male voices of the past 100 years.


Lawrence Tibbett was born Lawrence Mervil Tibbet, (with a single "t") on November 16, 1896 in Bakersfield, California. His father was a part-time deputy sheriff, killed in a shootout with desperado Jim McKinney in 1903. Tibbett grew up in Los Angeles, earning money by singing at funerals. He served in World War I, after which he found employment singing as a prologue to silent movies at the Grauman Theater, Hollywood.

Tibbett studied in New York City with Frank le Forge and in 1923 at the age of 26, he signed his first contract, for $60 per week, with the New York Metropolitan Opera, using the name of Tibbett. Over the ensuing years, with the Met, he built a hugely successful career. During the 1930s, Tibbett toured Europe and Australia, performing on stage or in concerts in London, Paris, Prague, Vienna and Australia.

In the early 1930s, Tibbett also appeared in movies . His Hollywood sojourn proved brief, although he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his first film, The Rogue Song, which was a 1930 MGM production with Laurel & Hardy, shot in two-color Technicolor. (One a few minutes of footage of the film, as well as the complete soundtrack, has been found.) Soon afterwards, he starred in another MGM musical film, New Moon, opposite Grace Moore. Also during the 1930s, Tibbett had a domestic radio program on which he sang formal music, his sponsor being the Packard Motor Car Company of America. The company chose him to announce the Packard 120 to the world on air; he drove one. When the firm wanted to sell less expensive cars, they persuaded him to add popular tunes to his repertoire in order to boost sales. He also appeared on Your Hit Parade.

Tibbett was a founder of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the most important labor union for solo performing artists. He was the Guild's proactive president for 17 years. His forceful and articulate advocacy of artistic causes was unique in its day. In the early 1950s, Tibbett tried performing in musicals and straight plays. He spent a summer in stock as the Reverend Davidson in Rain and played Captain Hook in a shortlived tour of the John Burrell staging of Peter Pan that was mounted for Jean Arthur. Veronica Lake played Peter. Most notably, Tibbett took over the Italian operatic bass Ezio Pinza's role in Fanny during its original Broadway run.

In later years, Tibbett became reclusive and suffered from alcoholism. His drinking and the strain caused by a hectic private and public life caused a decline in the quality of his voice during the 1940s, although he was retained on the Met's roster until 1950. He made a series of LP recordings during the 1950s, which show his voice in decline. Lawrence Tibbett died in 1960 in New York City as the result of a fall in his apartment.

The Times obituary said of him: "Tibbett had a big, bronzelike, dramatically eloquent voice that combined ringing power with remarkable agility...." "...he left behind not only the echoes of a great voice but the memory of a performer who could feel equally at home with high art and popular entertainment, suggesting that there is a magical link between the two."

Tibbett's recordings made during the 1920s and '30s are regarded as among the finest of that period. Many of them are available on CD.

Famous roles

Although regarded as a dashing, compelling actor as well, Tibbett's true fame stems, from the fact that he was one of the finest baritones ever to appear at the Metropolitan Opera. He was renowned for his affinity with the works of Verdi, notably his breakthrough role of Ford in Falstaff, Paolo in Simon Boccanegra and Iago in Otello. He was an imposing, sinister Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca, too, and a swaggering Escamillo in Bizet's Carmen. In addition, Tibbett created leading roles in a number of American operas, including Louis Gruenberg's The Emperor Jones, based on Eugene O'Neill's play. (He sang this in blackface; the character of Brutus Jones is an African-American). He also starred in Howard Hanson's Merry Mount. Tibbett performed the roles of Porgy and Jake in the first album of selections from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, two roles which, on stage, are usually performed by black singers. And continuing in this vein, he made a recording of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's song, Ol' Man River, from Show Boat.

Awards and portrayals

  • Lawrence Tibbett was pictured on a set of United States postage stamps in the "Legends of American Music series", celebrating opera singers.
  • Tibbett was made a posthumous member of the charter class of honorees in the “Hollywood Walk of Fame” as consequence of these motion picture performances.
  • Tibbett is portrayed briefly as a character in the 1991 film Bugsy, although the actor portraying him was shorter and pudgier than the real person.
  • An excellent, thoroughly-researched biography of Tibbett, titled Dear Rogue, by Hertzel Weinstat and Bert Wechsler, was published by the Amadeus Press of Portland, Oregon, in 1996.


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