Volume 76, Number 10 | July 26 - August 1, 2006

Villager photo by Cat Cutillo

Sorietta Silverman performing “Careless Love” last week at the Caring Community on Washington Square N. Silverman donned an apron for the traditional song about a woman who once wore her apron low, but now wears it high to hide her pregnancy. The song has been performed by Elvis Presley, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk and others.

Singer still loves the Village, and is still singing

By Marcus O. Carlson

She still ventures out of her W. 11th St. apartment to sing. When Jerry Scott, for years associated with Stonewall Bistro, took his piano to Rubyfruit on Hudson St., Sorietta Silverman started coming for Rubyfruit’s Sunday brunches just to hear him perform.

“I’m a fan of his because he really knows how to warm a place up,” said Silverman, who also enjoys Scott’s impromptu accompaniment. After having a bite to eat she gets up to sing nostalgic hits like “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” — one of her favorites in her repertoire from a career that now spans six decades.

Silverman moved to the Village before turning 20, intent on living the life of an artist, as did Andy Warhol, her friend from Carnegie Mellon University in their hometown of Pittsburgh.

Sitting down in her home to reminisce about her Village life, Silverman said, “We were a little group of friends, and after Andy and I came to New York we were still friends, up until he started doing his Factory thing.” She vividly recalls meeting Warhol on Greenwich Ave. after he became famous, Warhol telling her: “Sori, I can’t believe they’re paying for these boxes and cans.”

Through favorites like Asti’s restaurant and the Five Oaks, 19-year-old Sorietta fell in love with the Village.

“Everyone, both Villagers and tourists, loved to go to these places,” Silverman said. The popular black singers of the era would perform in Village clubs and piano bars. Marie Blake, especially, was a great inspiration to the budding chanteuse.

Starting her own musical theater and operetta career, Silverman performed at Margarita & Bianchi Italian restaurant on Sheridan Square, while filling in for other singers at Asti’s.

“One of my favorite songs was ‘I Wish You Love,’ but I would also sing a few arias from Tosca and La Bohème,” she recalled.

Silverman gives thanks to Swiss-born teacher Ria Ginster under whom she studied as a voice major in college.

“I was so lucky to be her student,” said Silverman. Apart from giving her the necessary self-confidence to launch her Village career, “She also introduced me to New York artists like Ruth Arrau and her husband, Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau,” Silverman noted.

Gerald Cooke, accompanist for several female singers in the Village, became an important friend. He played at the Cookery on University Pl., described by Silverman as “a hot place” that boasted a series of famous old singers, such as Alberta Hunter.

Changing her stage name to Sorietta Silman, she went on to sing with the City Opera and Radio City Music Hall. The name change proved to be as brief an affair as her employment. The freedom of expression she had enjoyed in the Village was barred by these prestigious venues.

“We were underrehearsed and overworked at the same time. At Radio City Music Hall we had to do seven shows a day.”

Her subsequent marriage turned out to be almost as brief, and after that disappointing experience she never remarried. She attributes her choice to stay single to one simple realization: “Most of the men I met were bums. I was either dumb or just naïve, because I didn’t realize they came with this sexual liberation movement that no one had told me about.”

Silverman has been living in the same one-bedroom, two-fireplace, prewar apartment for more than 30 years. She recalls her first Village dwelling as “a nice little ground-floor place” on Perry St. The lease came with only one oddity: One night a week she had to move into a hotel on Waverly Pl. and MacDougal St., since the owner of the apartment needed it to entertain her artist friends.

The bohemians may be gone, but Silverman still enjoys frequent strolls around the West Village. Especially cherished are unspoiled charming spots like Barrow St. and Patchin Pl. off of Waverly Pl.

“Because the Village is still like old New York,” she said, “just like my apartment.”

The Village music scene has remained Silverman’s true love in life.

“Because I always loved to express my spirit and feelings freely. I dreamed of the Village while growing up in Pittsburgh,” she said. The Village meant freedom and beauty just like Montmartre had before the war in Paris. “And the Village was also affordable at the time.”

Silverman keeps her voice in shape by regularly consulting a voice coach. And she keeps getting booked for live performances. A couple of years ago she put together a “nameless, nostalgic cabaret” with longtime friend Harold Miller at La Dolce Vita restaurant on 13th St.

“We did some cute songs there like ‘I Remember It Well.’ ”

This summer saw her busy preparing a folk song program together with singing partner Richard Smithies for a July 21 performance at the Caring Community senior center on Washington Square N.

“Richard and I met at the senior center’s Italian classes and I asked him if he wanted to participate in the St. Patrick’s Program at the center,” she said. The idea for a folk music program with traditional songs like “Oh! Susanna” and “Swanee River” grew out of their desire to invite the audience to sing along.

“Because singing with others takes the burden off,” said Silverman, “and makes it more fun.”

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