Acclaimed by critics as "one of
the great natural baritones of the century," Robert Merrill truly
became a legend in his own time. From the grand stages of the world's great opera houses,
Broadway, television, and recordings, he set a high standard for musical
Born in Brooklyn in 1917, Mr.
Merrill performed for visiting heads of state at the invitations of
every U.S. president from Truman to Reagan; President Clinton bestowed the National Medal
the Arts on him in 1993. He was also the recipient of the Handel Medallion, New York's
cultural award, as well as an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree from Gustavus Adolphus
College. He held a place of honor in Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts Hall of Fame
Great American Opera Singers, and the Metropolitan Opera recognized his record-setting
performances for that company by hanging his portrait in the Met's own Hall of
Mr. Merrill made his Met debut
in 1945 as the elder Germont in Verdi's La Traviata, and shortly
thereafter Arturo Toscanini invited him to perform this role in his historic broadcast with
NBC Symphony Orchestra. Toscanini also invited him to perform in his final opera
Un Ballo in Maschera, in 1954.
His annual coast-to-coast
recital tours included performances at the Hollywood Bowl, Wolf
Trap, and participation in a 1985 memorial concert for Jussi Björling at the Stockholm
He also sang Bloch's Sacred Service in Hebrew at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and
ceremonies marking the Statue of Liberty Centennial. In addition to opera, Mr. Merrill
music of the Broadway stage, including Porgy and Bess, Show Boat,
Carousel, and Fiddler
on the Roof. He authored three books, Between Acts, Divas, and an
autobiography written in
collaboration with Sanford Dody.
His enthusiasm for baseball was
well known, and for a period he pitched for a semi-pro team
to help pay for singing lessons. His recording of "God Bless America" was regularly played
home games of the New York Yankees, and he sang the national anthem live at the
opening game for some thirty years. A special thrill for him was performing William
Casey at the Bat, with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy
He retired from the Metropolitan
Opera in 1976, returning once to sing at the Centennial Gala
in 1983. He was married to the former Marion Machno, a concert pianist and Juilliard
who frequently accompanied him in recital. They had two children, David and Lizanne.
Merrill died on October 23, 2004, at his home in suburban New York City.