Happy 100th birthday to the fabulous Bea Wain!

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Exactly to the date, five years ago – I wrote an article in honor of Bea Wains 95th birthday. You can read that one here:

https://stianeriksen.com/2012/04/30/bea-wain-happy-95th-birthday/

Most of what’s in that piece is still relevant, except that Bea herself now, today turns 100 years old. Her daughter has told me that she is in good shape and that they will actually celebrate her centennial.

Bea Wain is one of the great singers of our time, and I am sorry she did not keep on recording for a much longer time. This video of a 66-year old Bea (in 1983), clearly shows that she still had her voice, charm and looks intact:

 

The 1930’s truly was a golden decade for vocalists, and a lot of the guys & girls who started recording back then, have left us awesome legacies of great music. Not many are still around though; Vera Lynn turned 100 in March (and released a new album!), most of the others are gone by now, one of the most recent being Kay Starr who died last November at the age of 94.

I bow my head in admiration for Bea’s 100th birthday today – and I certainly bow again, for her totally wonderful contribution to the world of song. Any young singer out there who wants to learn all about phrasing, breath control, involving yourself in the lyrics you sing or how to make each performance unique; all you need to do is listen to Bea Wain – ’cause she’s the best! There will never be another one like her, and for ages to come she will stand as the perfect template to any and all singers of popular music!

Dear Bea: Wishing you the very best for your birthday and the days to come! With much love and admiration from your biggest fan in Norway. Mwah!!

 

 

Bea Wain – Happy 95th Birthday!

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This entry may be regarded as yet another one of my portraits of Big Band Singers, but is it also a celebration of the great Miss Bea Wain, perhaps THE best singer who came out of the big band era! Bea Wain is very much still alive, and today she turns 95 years old!

A fairly recent photo of Bea Wain

Born on April 30th 1917, much of Bea Wain’s recording career was over and done with by the outbreak of WWII. She started recording in 1934, and her last commercial records were made in the mid-1940s. She was the featured singer with Larry Clintons orchestra, and with his band she put approximately 65 songs on records, but even before that she had made another 15 records with other bands. She was signed to RCA Victor as a solo artist in 1939, releasing another 50 songs on different singles up to 1947. During her years as a recording artist, Bea Wain scored 4 No. 1 hits; “Deep Purple”, “Cry Baby, Cry”, “Heart & Soul” and “My Reverie”.

Photo from the late 1930's. Style and class was evident in both her voice and looks

Rightly considered by many to be one of the best female vocalists of her era, Bea had a full, flexible voice that showed off a natural feeling for swing, yet she could also wring the last drop of emotion out of a ballad. Years before Adele, Dusty Springfield, Bonnie Bramlett and other white singers who can sing “black”, Bea Wain was maybe the first white girl singer who had true “soul”! She also recorded a couple of bluesy songs, sounding right at home even in that kind of material. She had excellent pitch, and a good sense of dynamics, making everything she sang sound convincing and unforced. A lot of singers at the time sang only the chorus of the songs. Bea, however, always did the verses as well – to make the song more complete, and perform the lyrics as a story, not just something to hum along to.

24 of her RCA Victor recordings 1939-1941

Baldwin Street Music put together 2 excellent CDs in 2000, compiling almost all of Bea Wains solo output for RCA Victor. Volume 1 is titled “You Can Depend On Me”, volume 2 is titled “That’s How I Love The Blues”. I would highly recommend both of them, as they represent the best of Bea Wain’s work, and even if you’re just curious about this great singer, it’s a good place to start out!

25 other recordings made for RCA Victor from 1939-1947

From the late 1940’s, Bea worked mostly on radio, in addition to singing in clubs. I’ve heard that she made records up to 1955, but so far I’ve not seen nor heard of any proof that this is correct. Bea was married to radio presenter Andre Baruch for 53 years, and they worked together as a husband-and-wife disc jockey team in New York on WMCA, where they were billed as “Mr. and Mrs. Music”.

Bea Wain and her husband, Andre Baruch

In 1973, the couple moved to Florida, where for nine years they had a top-rated daily four-hour talk show on WPBR before relocating to Beverly Hills. During the early 1980s, the pair hosted a syndicated version of Your Hit Parade, reconstructing the list of hits of selected weeks in the 1940s and playing the original recordings, many of which I would assume were sung by Bea herself! Around the same time, Bea was featured on TV’s “Jukebox Saturday Night”. She was sensational, proving that her voice was still very much intact and looking like she had the time of her life!

Very much an underrated singer even from the start, Bea Wain’s musical legacy was further obscured by the fact that most of it remained out of print and circulation for so many years. Luckily, the CD age rectified that – and today most of her records are available again on CD and digitally.

25 tracks by Bea as featured with Larry Clinton's orchestra 1937-38

Larry Clinton himself enjoyed a long and fruitful career, and in the mid-fifties he even remade some of Bea’s hit songs, using Helen Ward as vocalist. 2 great volumes of Larry & Bea have been released on CD (se above and below).

A second CD, compiling Bea's work with Larry Clinton

Ted Ono from Baldwin Street Music interviewed Bea when compiling the 2 CDs that came out in 2000. He was full of praise, saying she was funny, gracious, a delight to talk to, intelligent and witty. He also stated she was very much “computer literate, and uses email”. Personally, I hope Bea still is computer literate and that she herself reads this blog post!

If justice be done, today will see at lot of praise in print and on radio, to honor this great, legendary vocalist on her 95th birthday. She must be pleased that after making her first records 78 years ago, she still has a lot of fans around – and that we still appreciate how that golden voice wrapped itself around some of the best music made in those days!

A photo of Bea ca. 2007, when she was 90 years old

Bea: a very, very happy birthday to you from me! And a great big THANK YOU for creating all that wonderful music!

Comin’ up next – Girls from the Big Bands

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From the early stages of popular music, a band with a featured singer was often the main attraction where music was played. From around the 1920’s and 30’s a lot of great bands had a female vocalist as their headliner. Some of those girls later went solo, and from the late 30’s and early 40’s the music business was full of ex-band “canaries” who had their minds set on a solo career.

I will be writing some shorter biographies on some of those great girls in my next blog posts – and there are quite a few to choose from: Frances Langford, Bea Wain, Peg LaCentra, Helen Ward, Helen Forrest, Helen O’Connell, Dinah Shore, Fran Warren…..

Frances Langford on stage, probably around 1940

Some of these girls seem to have vanished from view quite early, while others had fairly long careers and branched out into both movies and television later on. Many of them also made appearances on the great 1980’s television show “Jukebox Saturday Night” and some of those clips can be seen on YouTube – giving younger generations an impression of just what it was that made mom and dad fans of these singers 40 years earlier.

Dinah Shore and Helen O’Connell were visible in many different settings right up to the 1990’s. Peg LaCentra, Helen Ward and others seem to have been shrouded by the mists of time… Or maybe not! Keep checking back over the next weeks, and you’ll find out more about these great ladies that started out as “big band singers” at the first part of the last century….

A 1970 LP by Helen O'Connell - who started recording back in the late 1930's

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