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Portia Nelson (USA. 1920-2001)

Portia Nelson

Singer, songwriter, actress, author, painter and photographer. She appeared in films like The Sound of Music, as well as in the TV soap opera All My Children. She also wrote the book There's a Hole in My Sidewalk external link, which was made into a musical featuring music, lyrics, direction and a performance by Nelson herself. Portia directed, wrote the music and lyrics, and performed in the production. Her song "Make a Rainbow" was performed at the 1993 inauguration of President Clinton.

Read the poem "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" - Printer-friendly worddoc (1 page)
Listen! Listen external link to the poem at the TP Podcast

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Portia Nelson, 80, Songwriter and Club Performer
By STEPHEN HOLDEN, from The New York Times external link (March 10, 2001)

Portia Nelson, a cabaret singer, songwriter, actress and author who was one of the most beloved New York nightclub performers of the 1950's, died on Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 80.

Ms. Nelson became a cabaret legend in the 1950's with her appearances in clubs like Café Society, the Blue Angel and the Bon Soir. She also appeared in five feature films, her most famous role being Sister Berthe in ''The Sound of Music.'' She was in the original cast of the 1954 musical ''The Golden Apple'' and many years later had a long-running role as Mrs. Gurney, a nanny, on the television soap opera, ''All My Children.'' She also found the time to work as vocal coach for stars like Jane Russell and Rock Hudson.

In the 1950's she recorded three albums that were to become classics of their kind, ''Let Me Love You,'' ''Portia Nelson Sings Bart Howard'' and ''Love Songs for a Late Evening,'' all of which have recently been re-released on DRG Records. As a singer she injected even the most wistful song with an indefatigable verve and optimism. She blended the cultivation of a Broadway soprano with a more intimate cabaret style defined by Mabel Mercer.

She was the first to record a standard by Mr. Howard, ''Fly Me to the Moon,'' when it still went under the title ''In Other Words.'' During the same period she was a protégée of the CBS Records executive Goddard Lieberson, who featured her on five Columbia albums that revived Broadway shows with their original orchestrations.

Ms. Nelson was a prolific songwriter whose most famous composition, ''Make a Rainbow,'' was sung by Marilyn Horne at President Bill Clinton's 1993 inaugural ceremony. The song was originally written for a 1969 NBC special, ''Debbie Reynolds and the Sound of Children'' and dedicated to Ms. Horne at the birth of her daughter. The many other singers who have performed or recorded her songs include Tony Bennett, Michael Feinstein, Dianne Reeves and Barbara Cook.

Born in Brigham City, Utah, her name was originally Betty Mae Nelson. She was called Portia by friends in grade school, who took the name from the radio soap opera ''Portia Faces Life.'' The youngest of nine children (four of whom died before she was born), she grew up in humble circumstances.

At the age of 23, she was discovered singing in a Sherman Oaks, Calif., nightclub by CBS Records. A year later she made her cabaret debut at the Blue Angel.

Her most recent album, ''This Life,'' was released in 1996 by DRG Records. She also published a book, ''There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery,'' which includes a poem, ''Autobiography in Five Short Chapters,'' that is used by many 12-step groups (although Ms. Nelson, who was brought up as a Mormon, never drank or smoked).

She is survived by a brother, Bernell Nelson of Medford, Ore.