Richard Crooks (1900-72) was an American tenor. Born in New Jersey he started his singing career as an oratorio specialist. He studied with baritone Leon Rothier and vocal coach Frank La Forge.
In 1927 he went to Germany where he made his operatic debut as Cavaradossi in Tosca. In 1930 he made his American operatic debut in Philadelphia. He first appeared at the Met in 1933 as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon. Over the next 11 years he sang 88 times with the company almost all in lyric roles such as Wilhelm Meister in Thomas’ Mignon and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni. He did give two performances in Tosca – one on tour and the other in the big house.
He was best known as the host of the radio program The Voice of Firestone from 1928-45. If I could Tell You was the program’s theme song. It was written by Harvey Firestone’s wife Idabelle and Madeleine Marshall. Composed in 1940 it opened every program from then on until the show’s demise in 1963 – it had arrived on TV in 1949. Crooks also was a regular guest on Bing Crosby’s radio show.
He was forced to retire because of illness in 1945, though he occasionally sang thereafter. I don’t know what was wrong with his health; he lived for another 27 years succumbing to cancer at age 72.
Crooks had a light voice that was occasionally open at its highest notes. He greatly admired John McCormack whose vocal style was similar to that of Crooks. His sound sometimes came from the throat though he could produce a full chest tone. Nevertheless, his singing was elegant and lovely especially in music that did not require a powerful output. Ah, Lève-toi Soleil from Roméo et Juliette shows both his strengths and limitations. This role was in his Met repertoire. His middle range was particularly appealing, though his high notes lacked ping which likely explains the roles the Met offered him.
Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, a role he didn’t sing at the Met, receives a fine and sensitive reading. He was very comfortable in operetta. The Merry Widow Waltz (in English) shows his facility with the genre. Yours is my heart alone from The Land of Smiles, also by Franz Lehar, is equally well done.
Crooks made many recording for RCA Victor, most of which are still available. When he was active he was very well known, mostly because of his frequent radio appearances. Today, though not forgotten, he’s known mostly to vocal aficionados. His art is well worth further investigation which these days, due to the ubiquity of streaming services, is easy to do. That his career was stopped by illness at an age when he should have been at his vocal best is a great loss to singing. His basically sound technique should have allowed him to perform successfully for more than a decade more. His voice was greatly admired by both critics and knowledgeable listeners.