Longtime AP country music chronicler Joe Edwards dies at 75

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Journalist Joe Edwards, who chronicled country music and helped “Rocky Top” become a Tennessee state song during his four-decade Associated Press career, has died. He was 75.

Longtime AP colleague Randall Dickerson said Edwards’ wife called him to share the news that her husband died Friday after a lengthy illness in Nashville.

Edwards documented the ascent of country music through interviews with stars ranging from Dolly Parton to Taylor Swift. He wrote the AP’s Nashville Sound country music column from 1975 to 1992 and did commentary for The Nashville Network cable TV station in the 1980s.

When Edwards retired in 2012, Reba McEntire said in a video tribute: “I’ll never forget the first time you interviewed me at the very beginning of my career, and I’ll never forget how sweet you were always to me.”

In 1982, a story Edwards wrote about the popularity of the song “Rocky Top” led the General Assembly to declare it a state song.

“He got the ball rolling,” Boudleaux Bryant, the song’s co-writer, said at the time.

He also covered sports and a variety of other topics during his AP career, which was spent entirely in Nashville. He worked most of the jobs in the Nashville bureau, including sports editor, broadcast editor and day and night supervisor.

Edwards was among those covering the death of Elvis Presley in 1977. He also reported about or edited stories from more than 20 Country Music Association awards shows.

He was nominated for several AP writing awards in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I just show up on time and do what I’m told,” he once said.

He wrote often about the syndicated TV show “Hee Haw,” and he once appeared on camera with its cast members.

Edwards began his AP career in 1970 after graduating from Eastern Kentucky University. Prior to that, he attended Vincennes University in Indiana.

While in college, he worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Crawfordsville, Indiana, Journal-Review.

Shortly after taking the job in Nashville, he periodically played basketball with Al Gore, then a reporter for The Nashville Tennessean. Gore later became vice president.

“He was a pretty good rebounder,” Edwards recalled.

Country music stars he interviewed also included Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell and Loretta Lynn. For several years, Edwards voted on nominees for the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He specialized in writing obituaries, including those for music stars Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Roy Orbison, Bill Monroe and Carl Perkins.

In 2010, he wrote extensively about the Nashville flooding that left much of the city submerged for several days. But he preferred reporting about more light-hearted topics, such as the taster at the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

Also, Edwards traditionally wrote a year-end story annually wrapping up Tennessee’s offbeat happenings of the year.

“People call and ask if I’m going to do the weird story again,” he said.

In the early 1970s, as bureau sports editor, Edwards spearheaded an effort to include girls high school basketball scores on the AP wire and to have a girls poll join the one for boys.

At top of opera, Yoncheva worries about classical music

NEW YORK — Sonya Yoncheva, a soprano at the top of her profession, worries about classical music.

“My son, if I ask him, he always says, ‘I want to be like Ronaldo.’ And later, if I ask my girl, she will say, ‘I want to be Lady Gaga and Beyoncé,’” the Bulgarian singer explained ahead of Saturday’s new production premiere of Giordano’s “Fedora” at the Metropolitan Opera. “They really don’t associate with the classical music artists. Times are changing.”

In a bid to shape projects and bolster opera’s audience, Yoncheva is launching her own record label.

A Sony Classical artist since 2013, Yoncheva is releasing “The Courtesan” on her own SY11 Productions label, recorded with conductor Marco Armiliato, tenor Charles Castronovo and Italy’s Orchestra dell’Opera Carlo Felice Genova. It will launch on Amazon on Feb. 9.

In a time of dwindling classical sales and releases, she was able to choose the selections and even the cover photo, matters subject to a collaboration on Sony recordings.

“I never really had the chance to guide my project from first step to the last step,” she said. “They were always a very good team with me, but I never felt free.”

In the first close-to-normal season since the pandemic’s onset, Yoncheva sings a revival of Bellini’s “Norma” at the Met starting Feb. 28, then has role debuts as Maddalena di Coigny in Giordano’s “Andrea Chénier” at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala on May 3 and Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Vienna State Opera on June 23.

“She is one of our most important artists,” Met general manager Peter Gelb said. “She’s a wonderful actress and a great singer. She is the kind of the artist that the Met needs more than ever these days as we try to make opera more appealing to a broader audience. It’s extremely challenging because the core opera audience is much smaller than it once was.”

Born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, on Christmas Day 1981, Yoncheva attended William Christie’s “Jardin des Voix” in 2007 and moved to Switzerland to enroll at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève.

“I wanted to come to the States, but I never managed to have a scholarship,” she said. “At the time, a salary of a normal Bulgarian person was $60 per month, so when you compare this to what has to be paid in a university in the States, it’s just insanely expensive, so for this reason I had to chose Europe. Someone gave me a little envelope with the name of the high school in Geneva, and this person told me ‘You should go there,’ and I said OK.”

In 2010, she became the first woman to win Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition, and she went on to debuts at the Met and Royal Opera (2013), Vienna State Opera (2014), Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and Paris (2017).

Yoncheva starred in Claus Guth’s 2017 Paris production of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” infamously relocated to a space shuttle.

“This was such a nightmare,” she said, laughing, “but many people are still talking about it.”

She has become more discerning with directors.

“Maybe they will have a concept, OK, but I want them to believe in that and to be honest with it and to explain to me why,” she said. “I must believe in it, and sometimes what is happening is that themselves, they don’t believe it and then they do it to provoke.”

David McVicar is directing “Fedora” in his 13th Met production — a future staging of Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda” is planned — in a fairly traditional mounting. Yoncheva made her role debut at La Scala on Oct. 15 in a modern-dress production directed by Mario Martone, and she worried about being heard.

“The stage director decided to leave the whole stage empty. Me and Roberto Alagna, we were struggling the whole night to find the Punto Callas, Punto Caballé, Punto Tebaldi, Punto I don’t know whom,” Yoncheva said, referring to the so-called preferred stage spots of Maria Callas, Montserrat Caballé and Renata Tebaldi decades earlier.

“I finished the production and I said ‘Oh, my God! What am I going to do at the Met?’ because the Met is maybe three times bigger than La Scala,” Yoncheva said. “I immediately called David, I said, ‘Please tell me there are some walls.’ And he said yes. He showed me pictures, and I was reassured.”

Her male lead at the Met is tenor Piotr Beczala. They have worked together for a decade.

“Our voices our pretty similar,” Beczala said. “I am coming from the lyric corner and she’s coming from the lyric corner, arriving now for a little more spinto repertory.”

While the Met dropped plans to present Yoncheva in John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles” and “Madama Butterfly,” she has committed to a new production of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)” and revivals of Tchaikovsky’s “Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades)” and Cherubini’s “Medea” in Italian.

She lives outside Geneva with her husband, conductor Domingo Hindoyan, whom she met in school. They are kept busy by 8-year-old son Mateo and 3-year-old daughter Sofia, with the entire family traveling to New York for her extended stay.

Yoncheva’s daughter looks at her career somewhat differently than the opera audience.

“I ask her what daddy does and she starts to conduct,” Yoncheva said. “And then I ask her what mommy does, and she says, ‘Oh, mommy, she’s Elsa from ‘Frozen’’ — because I’m dressed like a princess and I sing.”

Ann and Gordon Getty’s Collection of 1,500 Items Achieved $150 Million Across 10 Auctions

Ann and Gordon Getty’s collection achieved more than US$150 million across four live and six online auctions at Christie’s.

Courtesy of Christie’s

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Ann and
Gordon Getty’s
collection achieved more than US$150 million across four live and six online auctions at Christie’s that concluded Tuesday, making it one of the top three collections of both decorative and fine arts ever sold at Christie’s.

Each of the 10 auctions met or exceeded their presale estimates, each with a 100% sell-through rate, the auction house said. 

Proceeds will benefit the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts, which supports a range of California-based arts and science charities. 

The nearly 1,500 works in the collection were drawn from Getty’s townhouse in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. Gordon Getty, 88, a son of oil tycoon
J. Paul Getty,
led the sale of his family’s oil business to Texaco for US$10.1 billion in 1984. Since then, he has focused on his interests in classical music composing, and philanthropy. His wife, Ann, died in 2020 at the age of 81.

At the evening auction on Thursday at Christie’s New York saleroom, 60 lots fetched a combined US$79.4 million, which didn’t include the expected sale of Venice, the Grand Canal looking East with Santa Maria della Salute by Italian Venetian-school painter
Giovanni Antonio Canal,
commonly known as Canaletto. The painting sold privately hours before the live auction to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco through a donation by
Diane B. Wilsey,
a former chair of the museum, according to Christie’s. The painting was valued between US$6 million and US$10 million. 

Mary Cassatt’s
Young Lady in a Loge Gazing to Right became the top lot, selling for US$7.5 million, setting a record at auction for the 82-year-old American painter and printmaker. The work, with a presale estimate between US$3 million and US$5 million, was acquired by the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone in Japan.

An early George III walnut and parcel-gilt side chair

Courtesy of Christie’s

“As the momentum built over 10 auctions, Christie’s was thrilled to see the funding of the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts increasing sale by sale,”
Marc Porter,
chairman of Christie’s Americas, said in a news release. “It is also important to note that museums purchased the two highest value paintings for public display.”

The other three live auctions took place from Friday to Sunday, featuring paintings, English and European furniture and silverware, as well as Chinese works of art. In total, the four live auctions achieved nearly US$140 million, against a presale estimate of US$125 million.

In addition to Cassatt, three other artists saw their auction records reset, according to Christie’s.
Jacques-Émile Blanche’s
Vaslav Nijinsky in “Danse Siamoise” sold for US$2.7 million;
Jules Bastien-Lepage’s
Portrait de Sarah Bernhardt achieved US$2.28 million, and
Jean-Antoine Watteau’s
Three Head Studies Of A Girl Wearing A Hat, fetched US$3.42 million.

The Getty Collection became the third most valuable collection of both decorative and fine arts sold at Christie’s, following the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and
Pierre Bergé
in 2009 for €373.9 million (US$483.8 million), and the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller for US$832.6 million in 2018.

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