A remembrance for the Canadian magazine La Scena Musicale quotes Russell as saying, "my voice has been variously described as sounding like shattering glass or a cracked temple bell!" She put that voice to hilarious use, performing satirical routines that are still quoted by aficionados today, more than four decades after many of them were first heard.
Her thirty-minute spoof of Wagner's tetralogy, "The Ring of the Nibelungs: An Analysis," is now legendary. (Sample observation: "Gutrune is the first woman Siegfried has ever met who hasn't been his aunt.") She also unleashed her wit upon operettas, in "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera," as well as French art song (which, she maintained, "is not sung, it is whispered"), German Lieder and English folksong.
Russell even happily parodied herself in The Power of Being a Positive Stinker — A Practical Guide on How to Inspire Nobody. Her albums Anna Russell Sings? and Anna Russell Sings! Again? were bestsellers for years.
Russell was born in 1911 in London and studied voice at the Royal College of Music. According to La Scena, she also studied piano and composition with Arthur Benjamin and Ralph Vaughan Williams, before working briefly at the BBC Educational Music Department, which she reportedly described as "a crashing bore."
Russell began her musical career as a folk singer on radio in Canada, where she moved with her Canadian mother in 1939. She made her New York debut at Carnegie Hall in 1947 and gave a one-woman show at Town Hall the following year. She toured the U.S. and Canada in the 1950s, by which time she had garnered popular and critical acclaim, and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1953.
She performed frequently until the 1960s and would give occasional "farewell recitals" every so often thereafter, finally retiring for good in 1986. After living for a few years in a retirement home in Ontario, she moved to Bateman's Bay, on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, in 2004 to be with her daughter.