Florence Foster Jenkins Should Inspire Us All

by Jenn Ficarra

Sometimes, a movie comes along that changes your life; it inspires you, motivates you, and makes you ask: "why not me?" Well, the upcoming film Florence Foster Jenkins is no exception. The movie, starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, is about a New York heiress who becomes an opera singer despite her lack of singing ability, and the husband who arranges for her to perform. On the surface, it might not sound that inspiring. After all, it's just a movie someone made up, right? Well, as it turns out, Florence Foster Jenkins was a real person with a true and touching story.

According to the American National Biography, Jenkins grew up the daughter of a wealthy lawyer. She began piano lessons and became a child pianist prodigy, even performing at the White House for President Hayes. But her dream was always to sing, yet her father refused to pay for her to study music so, in retaliation, she eloped. Sadly, it was a love gone wrong (he gave her syphilis) and they divorced eventually, but Jenkins kept his last name.

It wasn't until her father's death that she received a hefty sum of money — enough money, in fact, that she could finally start to fund her dreams of becoming a singer (at age 41). Well, it turns out, she wasn't very good at singing. But that didn't stop her from trying.

Her lack of rhythm, pitch, and tone could possibly be attributed to the effects of syphilis, as it attacks the central nervous system, although it's unclear if that was the definitive reason. Jenkins' disease progressed each day but still, she pushed forward with her singing, despite being referred to as the "world's worst singer." She continued to develop a singing career, performing in concerts and making her own recordings.

Jenkins' career led to one defining moment: a performance at Carnegie Hall. According to the American National Biography, her performance was the fastest-selling concert in the hall's history. She performed all of her notable recordings and unfortunately, while she had the time of her life, critics attended and mocked her endlessly, writing scathing reviews. Tragically, two days after the concert, Jenkins suffered a heart attack, and she died a month later. But she died having lived out her dream — following it through and enjoying every moment, despite the naysayers and critics. She went for it, full force, and that is something to admire.

Florence Foster Jenkins focuses on its title character's perseverance in the face of adversity and naysayers. And why shouldn't it? There isn't one thing about this story that isn't remarkable. In a world where many people feel like failures if they're not exceptional at something, maybe it's time for Jenkins' story to be told. Who cares if you're good or if you'll succeed? If you have a dream, go for it, full force. Follow Jenkins' example and don't let anyone or anything stop you.

Images: Paramount Pictures