fat lady swan song?

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed May 19 23:41:37 UTC 2004

Some years ago there was a radio show in NYC for hopeless opera fanatics -called "Opera Fanatic", in fact, Stefan Zucker the host, WKCR, Saturday evenings.  In any event, he and his callers once spent quite some time debating just exactly which fat lady the person who had coined that phrase had in mind.

I believe that they could not come to a consensus.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
Date: Wednesday, May 19, 2004 6:50 pm
Subject: Re: fat lady swan song?

>        I don't think that there's any real question that the
> phrase was popularized by Dick Motta in 1978, and that Motta
> himself credited Dan Cook as his source.  As Fred Shapiro posted a
> few years ago, there was a pre-existing phrase, "Church ain't out
> 'till the fat lady sings," datable to 1976 but said to have been
> in use as a Southern proverb for decades previously.  Here's Dick
> Motta's own account, from the Dallas Morning News on 3/5/85.
> Since Motta says he heard a version of it from Cook, I wonder if
> Cook may have said "church" and Motta changed it to "opera."
>        <<The other subject I always get asked about is the origin
> of the
>  expression "The opera ain't over until the Fat Lady sings.' For the
> uninitiated, I got credit for popularizing that expression during the
> 1978 playoffs in which my team, the Washington Bullets, won the world
> championship against Seattle. I never credited myself with coining
> that expression. I first heard a version of it used by Dan Cook in
> San Antonio during a playoff series that season. I repeated it in
> our locker room after we took a 3-1 series lead, but nobody
> picked up
> on it.
>     The big misnomer surrounding my use of the expression is that
> everyone thinks I used it to motivate my team once it got behind.
> That's wrong. The first time it got published was after we had
> beaten Philadelphia in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference
> finals to take a 3-1 lead.
>    A reporter would not leave me alone and kept insisting that we
> had the series locked up. He asked me how it felt after 10 years in
> the league to make it to the finals, etc. I said it to get the
> writer off my back, because I knew the series wasn't over. "Listen,'
> I said, "we still have to win that fourth game. The opera ain't over
> until the Fat Lady sings. We've still got some more basketball to
>  play.'
>    When we did get into the finals, we were sort of a Cinderella
> team. CBS picked up on it. Our fans picked up on it. When we
> trailed the championship series, 3-2, the media trotted the line out,
> and it became part of the folklore of that series because we won
> Games 6 and 7. There were Fat Lady T-shirts, and a lot of money was
> made by a lot of people off that line, but I never made a cent.
>    Before that season, I had been on the verge of getting into the
> finals three times but never made it. A seventh game in that
> Philadelphia series would have been played there, and there was no
> way I was going to accept premature congratulations for something we
> hadn't accomplished. What I was thinking really was a variation of
> the old Casey Stengel or Yogi Berra line. Remember "It ain't over
> until it's over?' It just happened to come out the way it did. To
> this day, some leather-lung fan will greet me when I walk onto the
> court with "Hey, Motta, where's the Fat Lady?' or "When's the Fat
> Lady going to sing?'
>    A footnote to the Fat Lady: After the Bullets won the title, a
>  T-shirt came out in the Washington area that said: "The Opera is
> over . . . the Fat Lady sang.' The next season, they marketed a T-
> shirt that said: "The Fat Lady will sing again.' Someday, I hope
> we can
> dust off the Fat Lady and have her sing country and western in
> Dallas.>>
> John Baker

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