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Why 'Edelweiss' Makes Audra McDonald Think Of Home

Audra McDonald is nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in <em>The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess</em>. She tells <em>All Things Considered</em> about the song that started her on her theater journey.
Michael Wilson
Audra McDonald is nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. She tells All Things Considered about the song that started her on her theater journey.

A shelf stacked with LPs, a cassette played over and over on a family road trip, a song a parent always sang when vacuuming — these are ingredients of musical memories from childhood.

They're also images from a series All Things Considered launches today, called "Mom and Dad's Record Collection." We're asking musicians, writers and even politicians to tell us about one song they discovered through a parent and how it shaped them.

When Audra McDonald sings, a New York Times review read, "It's a God-touched voice that turns suffering and ugliness into beauty." She's currently nominated for a Tony Award for The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess. With All Things Considered host Robert Siegel, McDonald takes listeners back to where that voice first emerged: a music box she received from her uncle when she was just a year old.

"It had three birds on it and a tree in the middle of it," says McDonald. "And two birds are getting married, and one bird is performing the ceremony. It played the music 'Edelweiss.'

"I had it in my nursery for as long as I can remember," McDonald says. "When I wanted to audition for a dinner-theater junior troupe in my hometown, I needed to have a piece of musical theater music to sing. I wasn't sure what I wanted to use. My mom and dad suggested that I sing 'Edelweiss' because I knew it from the music box. So my dad played the piano for me at the audition. I got in, and that started me on my theater journey."

'Bless My Homeland Forever'

Of course, "Edelweiss" is from The Sound of Music. McDonald says she remembers being struck by Christopher Plummer playing the song on guitar and "being moved by it even at a young age." The singer has since added it to her repertoire, typically as an encore, and the music box has now been passed on to McDonald's daughter.

Because she knew only the instrumental music box, a young McDonald misheard the line, "You look happy to meet me" as "You look happy to me, to me." But now the song's homeland theme reminds her of her own home.

"When I sing it, I sing about, certainly, my homeland — a metaphorical sense, which is my home, and my dad, and my child."

We'll continue our series "Mom and Dad's Record Collection" all summer long, so we want your memories: Write us about one song you discovered through your parents — and the memory attached to it.

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