Florence Birdwell was an American singer, musician, and widely renowned voice teacher. She was born in Arizona, and grew up in New Mexico, later moving to Oklahoma City to study Voice with Inez Silberg at Oklahoma City University, where she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees. Birdwell later returned to OCU where she taught voice from 1946 until 2013. In a documentary by OCU, Birdwell recounts how she began her teaching career – “I had a very severe infection in my throat and lost my voice and so I cried to my teacher, what do I do? And she said, remember this, you may not be able to sing, but you can certainly talk. And so I went into teaching.”
As an educator Birdwell received numerous awards and honours including the Governor’s Arts Award (1985), induction into the Higher Education Hall of Fame (2012) and a scholarship in her name – “the Florence Birdwell Vocal Scholarship Fund” at OCU (1990). Florence Birdwell will be remembered for her passion, no-nonsense approach and her ability to inspire! On her teaching career Birdwell said “I just love teaching voice, I love teaching emotion, I love teaching expression, I love teaching music, I love it, I love it, I never tire, never tire of it. 67 years you say, well I wish it was 70!”
Birdwells students have included stars on the Broadway and Opera stage alike, including Kristen Chenoweth, Kelli O’Hara, Lara Teeter, Miss America 1981 Susan Powell, Barbara Fox deMaio Caprilli, and Stacy Logan. In addition to the technical aspects of voice technique, Birdwells teaching emphasized understanding and communicating the lyric. On teaching a song, Birdwell said “That’s how I teach a song, ‘First, let’s memorize the words. First, let me hear you read the words.’ … Give me words. When you have all the words of this song that you’re going to sing, when you have all the words memorized and in your vocabulary and in your heart, only then do I want you to sing that song. Then you’ve got something to say. But don’t sing if you don’t have anything to say, OK? That’s really good,”
Two of Florence Birdwells students, Kristen Chenowyth and Kelli O’Hara were nominated for the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2015. O’Hara won the award for the part of Anna Leonownes in “The King and I”.
She not only taught me to sing technically, but taught me to sing from the soul about what a song actually means. Don’t sing it if ya can’t mean it!— Kristin Chenoweth