Meet Melva Niles Barborka...
Better known as Melva Niles back in the days when she sang on Broadway, off Broadway, on the radio, and for the President at the National Theater in Washington DC. Melva Niles was one of the fastest rising stars of musical theater in the mid to late 40's...and then she gave it all up to walk away and be a wife and mother.
Baritone Robert Peterson and Soprano Melva Niles
Melva sang on stage with some of the greatest male leads in the business...including her "The Railroad Hour" performance of The Song Of Norway on February 28, 1949 on ABC Radio, with the show's charismatic host, Gordon MacRae. When she was singing in the nation's capitol, Mrs. Truman and the President's daughter were so impressed by her that they insisted Harry invite her to the House for lunch.
How on earth did I get to meet this person, and to call her friend? Well, obviously she is not into karate. And truth to tell, she blushes every time I tell her the kind of books I write. Actually, I met Melva a number of years ago when she was doing a part time job in my office. I was fairly close friends at work with Melva's daughter-in-law, who just happened to mention that her m-i-l was starting work there the next week under a special program that allowed aged low income folks to work a few hours a day for the government to help make ends meet.
Melva was celebrating her 80th birthday that fall. She was a sweet, unassuming lady who blushed easily and laughed at every problem. So when her d-i-l happened to mention in passing that Melva had once been a star of the stage and Broadway, I did what I always do...I got curious. Why had I never heard of this once-famous and now destitute person?
I Googled her. I found several blurbs on the Internet about shows she had been in, but after a meteoric rise to stardom for three years, she suddenly seemed to vanish. I found her recorded performance of the Song of Norway on ABC Radio, and purchased it for her as a birthday gift. Seems she found the man of her dreams, married him. Two years later, she got pregnant, and quit a multimillion dollar career to be a wife and mother. Now, that is what I call determination and courage.
Melva is another of my personal heroes. She continued to do special performances for a number of years after leaving Broadway...but she did them for her church, and made not a dime off anything. Her records are being sold everywhere, but this little lady receives not a red cent. She found faith in a world of glitz and money. She and her husband lost everything that most people find important...money, cars, a high flying social life...and when her wonderful love became ill, she found herself a widow. But her courage and determination taught me a great deal, and I will always treasure our friendship.
Melva is a bright star in the Heaven of heroes. She is now 85, and still singing.