Long-lost record brings 94-year-old's dreams of singing back to life
'I knew not to expect anything and I developed that attitude then. Now, I'm flying'
Madeline Forman was cleaning out her closet when she discovered a record she forgot she made as a young woman. Now the 94-year-old is finding the audience she always deserved but never had — and realizing a dream seven decades in the making.
Forman has always loved to sing. As a teen, she idolized singers, especially Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and the Andrews Sisters. She had big dreams to follow in their footsteps and share her voice with the world.
But life got in the way, and Forman put those dreams on hold. As decades passed, they gathered dust and faded from memory.
Then, at last she found a long-forgotten 78 r.p.m. record she made in 1946 when she was 20 years old. She had skipped school one day to enter — and subsequently win — a talent contest at the Adams Theatre in Newark, N.J. That's when she scraped together enough money to record a few songs.
Today, she's recording music again. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.
Madeline, can you take us back to the moment when you found this record in your closet? What was that like for you?
Well, it was a moving day. We had sold our house and we were cleaning it out. And I came across this box. I opened it up and there were the records. I recognized them.
What do you remember about making that recording?
I remember walking into this room. There was a stage. And I saw a microphone.
I went right to the microphone. I closed my eyes and I focused on singing like I was singing to 3,000 people.
I remember it so well…. [I] just shut my eyes and didn't know anything else existed except singing.
But this is not the voice of an amateur. That's not the voice of somebody who just has never been trained or knows how to sing.
Trust me, it was me. That was me.
I know it was you.
When we were poor, I had no money for singing lessons. And I knew singing was free for me. I didn't have to — I had no lessons whatsoever.
What kind of reaction did you get from people when they heard your voice?
In those days, things were so tight and people were struggling with a lot of things. Or the people I knew, they didn't say too much. They said I was good, nothing sensational. And I thought I was good. I didn't think I was great at the time.
I always sang and they always listened. So I loved that part. I knew they liked me.
But people did hear a lot of talent in that voice. Why did you not pursue a career as a singer?
We had no money. My father, he would sell bananas from a pushcart to provide for his family. And [we were] five children.
In high school, after I graduated, I had to make a decision as to what to do. And I knew I couldn't. I had to stay home and help the family financially. So that's what I did. I forgot my singing.
Although, I sang wherever I could. Whoever would listen to me, I sang. I sang at weddings, at bar mitzvahs. But I knew I had to get a job…. I had to bring money in.
Was that disappointing to you that you were never able to develop that talent?
Growing up as a kid, I was disappointed in probably everything. I knew I couldn't get anything. There was never money. So I sort of developed a wall in front of me, saying to myself, "Don't be disappointed, because chances are you're not going to get it."
So you went on, you started your own family, you raised them. And now here you are, 94-years-old, and you hear these recordings. How did your kids and your family respond when you played this for them?
They're absolutely excited. Thrilled.
But did your family know about your voice? About how beautiful it was?
Like I said, things were tough. There was no money. We had some medical issues in the family. And, you know, they didn't give any thought to me. Hah, what can I tell you?
But I wasn't disappointed because I knew not to expect anything. And I developed that attitude then. Now, I'm flying.
You're not only flying; you're doing some new recordings, right? Can you tell us about that?
My son got in touch with a cousin of ours who lives in Canada. He's a music producer.
He told us about a recording studio called Shorefire, where we live in Long Branch, New Jersey. And he got in touch with the man [at the studio] and they got me up there to make the recordings. And what I did was I recorded the same song I sang 75 years ago.
And how did it go?
Yeah, fine, wonderful!
I said, "Listen, I can't sing anymore. This [was a] long time ago. I don't have the control. I know myself."
They said, "Listen, Tony Bennett could sing. So can you."
So I recorded it, and it wasn't bad.
What's it like to be 94 and finally having people appreciate and know what kind of talent you had?
I've been smiling for a week on this, all day long. It's so wonderful. People are calling from all over.
The people who played for me when I recorded it, they're from all parts of the country. And my cousin Howie in Canada put us all together. Can you imagine that? They got together and I sang to that music. Isn't that amazing?
Written by Mehek Mazhar and John McGill. Interview produced by John McGill. Q&A edited for length and clarity.