By FREDI WASHINGTON PV's Theatrical Editor April 20, 1946 p. 26
CAN YOU ENVISION IN YOUR MIND'S EAR AND EYE a tenor voice filling every crevice of the huge 3,500-seat Roxy Theatre, located in the heart of Broadway? Well, it can be done and has been done, I witnessed it, as did a lot of people last week and the person who accomplished the feat, is a guy who is slight of build, hails from Augusta, Ga., and answers to the name Arthur Lee Simpkins. You may have heard him as vocalist with Earl (Father) Hines back in '34-'35, but what Arthur was selling in those days was the swoon brand of songs, a la Perry Como, Sinatra, etc. Today this average height, rich-brown male gives out in the best Metropolitan Opera voice style with such things as Pagliacci, La Tosca and Aida, and the audience, whether it be in a night club, a radio studio or an arena-like movie house, is first surprised, then awed and after emotions are allowed to settle and the last note had died away, their thunderous applause is little short of sensational. The reaction is always the same--the same because when Simpkins steps onto the stage, the traditional thing is expected--a spiritual, Ole Man River or Without a Song, but instead they get as an opening number, Donkey Serenade. One of the things which completely disarms an audience is Simpkins' versatility. Not only does he sing arias with ease and grace, but he sings them with dignity befitting a master's work. He is equally at home with a bouncy French jive ditty or Cole Porter's Begin-The-Beguine.
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ARTHUR'S RHYTHM AND PROJECTION are not confined to his throat either. Indeed he moves with the grace and decisiveness of any of your best dancers.
This unusual talent is rightfully reaping the sensational success it deserves but it did not happen by wishful thinking. It happened because Simpkins has a Georgia determination and knew what he wanted, and, by God, was not too lazy to work for it.
Oh yes, he had his handicaps and there were those who tried discouraging him. Ed Fox, one of the take-advantage-of-'em-Bookers, told him back in the early days ('34-'35 at Chicago's Grand Terrace) that he was not nearly as good as he thought, and the $35 he received as salary was practically a token. At that time, Arthur had been working for Fox four weeks. You think that Fox was able to put a crimp in this newly-arrived-from-the-south young man? He was not. Arthur went right out and found himself a vocal teacher. To study voice, was what he wanted to do all along anyway.
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ARTHUR ARRIVED IN CHICAGO in the summer of 1934 with his wife, Aurora, on a supposed two-week vacation to visit the World's Fair. They drove up from Augusta in their 1928 model T Ford. Arthur says he wishes he had that Ford now, yellow wheels, ornate trimmings and all. It was not his intention to stay in Chicago. Rather the trip was meant to break the monotony of his porter job in Augusta's main bank. But while in the Windy City, he remembered that Earl Hines (after hearing him sing in Augusta's only theatre where Negroes are allowed to entertain and be entertained) gave him an invitation to visit him if ever in the vicinity of Chicago. So visit Earl he did. That visit lasted until 1937, when Arthur decided singing with a band was not for him. And furthermore, there was not time enough for serious music, what with one nighters and the like.
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INVADING NEW YORK on his own did not turn out to be a bed of roses for Arthur. Rather it meant jiving the landlord until a job could be gotten, eating hot dogs instead of a nourishing meal and all of the other things which happen to folks who come to New York looking for a break in the show business. This situation, Arthur overcame in short order. A week at the Apollo, jobs in third rate night clubs, soon attracted attention and the better places started making bids for this unusual singer's services. It was in 1940, when Arthur sang at the St. Mortiz on Central Park South, that his luck commenced to change. From this point on, things moved fast. A series of well paying engagements between New York and Chicago brought him to the attention of Louis B. Mayer, who signed him to a seven-year contract at Metro Goldwyn Mayer. He arrived in Hollywood in 1943 and was given the benefit of nine months' study under MGM's voice and music coach, Arthur Rosenstein.
BECAUSE SIMPKINS refuses to be a part of stereotyping the Negro, a suitable vehicle has not been found for him. He refused to do a sequence in Ziegfeld Follies because the scene was laid in a cotton field. Said Arthur, "When I left Georgia, I left the cotton field behind me and I have no intention of returning to it, not even on the screen."
For the past two and a half years, Arthur has been studying privately with Charles McClean. Five languages have been mastered by this ambitious singer in the short space of three years. He sings in Russian, Italian, French, Hebrew, and Jewish [sic: no period]
Unlike many who are interested in serious music, Arthur does not want to sing on the concert stage. He says, "I like to sing to masses of people and give them the unexpected rather than the expected."
This Georgia boy knew what he wanted, went after it, got it and gave us all something to shout about. You see, kiddies, it can be done.