Friday, December 7, 2012

Two Or Three Fat Ladies

So for those of you following the NHL lockout, it's become clear that the fat lady is warming up her vocals on the season.

Who exactly is the fat lady, though? When you hear that phrase, odds are you get the imagery of some gazillion-pound opera singer in valkyrie garb ready to shatter glass. Someone who actually knew a little bit about opera- and Wikipedia- would give you the name Brunnhilde, who closes out Richard Wagner's Gotterdammerung with a ten-minute belt-fest.

That's likely not quite it, though.

There's a Southern phrase dating from the early 20th century that goes, 'church ain't out until the fat lady sings', which stemmed from the fact that, well, there were often fat ladies singing at church. That's pretty much your answer right there and you could stop here if you wanted, but what the heck, I'm going to keep going with this. On December 11, 1969, the Philadelphia Flyers played the 'God Bless America' rendition of a woman named Kate Smith, a reasonably popular singer at the time and one who was rather large. The Flyers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3. The Flyers played Smith's version some more. The idea took hold that the Flyers won more often when it got played- and they needed something to latch onto, because the Flyers were terrible that season. So Smith's rendition got played more and more and eventually all the time.

By 1973, it had gotten to the point where Smith showed up to the Spectrum to sing it herself prior to the Opening Night game on October 11, also against the Maple Leafs. The Flyers won 2-0, the first step on the way to back-to-back Stanley Cup title. The phrase "It ain't begun till the fat lady sings" took hold. By 1987, a Kate Smith statue stood outside the Spectrum; the Spectrum now demolished, it sits in front of Xfinity Live, an entertainment complex in South Philadelphia.

On March 3, 1976, Texas Tech men's basketball commentator Ralph Carpenter introduced the opera aspect to the phrase. Late in a conference tournament game against Texas A&M, A&M had just tied things at 72. Co-commentator Bill Morgan said, "Hey, Ralph, this is gonna be a tight one after all." And Ralph said, "The opera ain't over until the fat lady sings." And there you had it. Cue the valkyries. (Texas Tech won 74-72.)

I guess it's better work than J.G. Wentworth ads. Or... well, singing at NHL games, come to think of it.

No comments: