Found: "My Milwaukee" by Hildegarde

We met Hildegarde (1904 - 2005) when she was 85. The New York Times credited her with starting the "single-name vogue among entertainers." Think Liberace, Melanie, Madonna, Lady Gaga, et. al. The equivalent of MAC Lady Gaga Viva Glam lipstick was Revlon's shade of pink lipstick and nail polish inspired by Hildegarde. She was climbing the cabaret chanteuse circuit in American and Europe at the time. She lived to be 99 and died of natural causes according to The New York Times obituary dated August 1, 2005.

We knew little about Hildegarde until our friend Lars Kvam, a big fan of Wisconsin bands and music, told us about her. She resonated with us -- she was born in Adell in Sheboygan County not far from where we grew up in rural Wisconsin and aspired to national fame. Lars gifted us a copy of her "souvenir" 45 My Milwaukee/Wisconsinland performed with Jerry Blake's OrchestraMy Milwaukee can be read as an "audio postcard" beckoning listeners to share and visit "her town."  She had lived and worked in Milwaukee while establishing herself as the "first lady of the supper clubs"and unlike Liberace who felt bitter about Milwaukee, she felt gratitude.

When we heard she was coming to the elegant red velvet Riverside Theater in Milwaukee in 1986, we got our tickets right away. We talked to media people and figured out a way to meet her at the Marc  Plaza, a classy downtown hotel where she was staying. At the Riverside, she accompanied herself on the piano wearing her signature over-the-elbow-white-gloves as she sang songs from her 78s through her 1976 LP, What I did for Love...  We wrote a piece on her for Art Muscle magazine (then published and edited by Debra Brehmer) and included her portrait in an exhibition of ours titled, The Elders in 1988.

Hildegarde, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1986, 15x15 gelatin silver print
"I always promised God that if I was successful
I would set a good example and be an inspiration.
I think I have done that."
 © J. Shimon & J. Lindemann
Letter received by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann from Hildegarde, September 1987 on her pink stationery.
 Hildegarde smelled of roses and pressed face powder and carried a white lace hanky and rosary in a small case she kept tucked in her black marabou jacket. She told us one of her secrets: as you prepare to go out to a meeting or what have you, leave everything you need by the door as you think of it, that way you won't forget anything. After we met her, we corresponded regularly sending copies of our article and a brochure from our exhibition. Her hand-written letters arrived on signature pink stationery from her room at the Plaza Hotel in New York. In a letter dated September 17, 1987, she wrote us that she was proud to know us saying we "have class and know how to do things right." What a vote of confidence! Thanks to amazon.com, we found her 1963 book Over 50, So What at a reasonable price, have thrifted a number of 78s, and bought copies of her later LPs while visiting San Francisco.

(by Ken Lonnberg)
recorded at Dave Kennedy Recording Studios, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
 In my Milwaukee, unusual town. That's my Milwaukee, that friendliness found.

She has a spirit that's great everyday.

That's my Milwaukee, unique in its way. You'll find the charm and finesse of old world living at best. And international guests within her arms.

That's my Milwaukee, where friends come to meet.

In my Milwaukee, you're really in for a treat. 

So come and see my town, come and see my town. Milwaukee welcomes you. 

Milwaukee, I love you.

1 comment:

  1. Nato20:55

    Loved your descriptive story of who she was and how you met her. What a wonderful niblet of history. Gloves on hairy arms were a nice touch.