Steven Sondheim‘s lyrics about the desire to overcome one’s limits echoes Ellis’ own story. She was a vocalist of great renown in the 40’s and 50’s whose stage-fright was so overwhelming, she rarely sang in public. Instead, she sang on radio shows where no one could see her, and was the “voice” behind non-singing stars like Rita Hayworth and Shelley Winters. And she would sing privately, often a capella, for friends.
I was lucky enough to have been at a rare concert she gave in the 1980’s when she attempted once again to overcome her paralyzing fear of performing publicly. On stage early into the first song, she froze as she looked out into the audience, the moments passing in silence. Suddenly, her brother Larry Kert rose from his seat in the orchestra and called out: “Somebody lo-v-v-v-es you!”.
As though woken from a dream, Ellis began to sing.
Anyone can whistle, that’s what they say – easy.
Anyone can whistle, any old day – easy.
It’s all so simple.
Relax, let go, let fly.
So someone tell me, why can’t I?
I can dance a tango, I can read Greek – easy.
I can slay a dragon, any old week – easy.
What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me how to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free.
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me.