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!!

 

 

Teresa Brewer – A musical chameleon!

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Teresa Brewer has taught me a lesson; to never judge anything by its initial appearance! The first time I heard her sing, I didn’t like what I heard. I thought her voice sounded funny, with all kinds of squeeky yelps, a tinny sound and sobbing histrionics. I don’t remember what song it was, but it kind of turned me off, and I decided that I wasn’t going to be a big fan of hers….. This happened many years ago, and time and musical knowledge has changed my view on Teresa completely – so much so, that I now consider myself a big fan!

What I did discover was that Teresa has a very special kind of voice, and like all other really good singers, even she needs to be put in a musical setting that fits her voice and talent. At the beginning of her career, there was often a shortage of just that, and so she was many times recorded quite unfavourably. And some of the material she was handed, wasn’t really all that much either….

Luckily, Teresa managed to rise above the stuff she was forced to record at the start, and developed into one of the most versatile singers ever! She has recorded more than 600 songs, released albums of a lot of different musical styles and has proven that she indeed is one of the best and most versatile female vocalists in popular music.

Theresa Veronica Breuer was born on May 7, 1931 in Toledo, Ohio and died at the age of 76 in October 2007. As a child, Teresa had sung and danced on various shows and performed on both radio and TV. At the age of 18, in 1949 – she made her first record; backed by The Dixieland All-Stars, she released a single called “Copenhagen”. On the flip side of that record was the tune that forever will be linked to Teresa’s name: the incredibly catchy (and quite silly) “Music, music. music”. That song raced up the charts, and Teresa was immediately on her way to stardom. For the next 45 years, she would go on to have a very varied and extensive recording career, gracing a lot of different styles with her great voice. I will spotlight some of the fabulous albums she made, and hopefully also change the opinion that Teresa Brewer was a 50’s novelty singer who just sang cute and funny songs – she is so much more than just that!

 

A collection of all her recordings on the London label 1949-50

A collection of all her recordings on the London label 1949-50

During 1949 and 1950, Teresa recorded for a label called London. They put her in the novelty bag straight away, and she got to record a lot of those “cute & funny” songs for that label. In addition to “Music, music, music” her hits while on London also included “Choo’n’gum”, “Molasses, molasses”, “I beeped when I shoulda bopped” and “The thing”. Teresa comes off as a young, “not yet fully developed” singer, and some of the backing isn’t right for her voice; at times she appears to be loud rather than powerful. But in 1951, she changed labels and signed with Coral records. From there on, she would start making a long line of really great music that came out on several of her most cherished albums.

Coral records provided a much more sympathetic backing for Teresa, and while she didn’t quite get away from novelty songs, she did get to record a lot of different material – and hits kept coming! During her first 5 years on the label, she notched up no less than 13 Top 20 hit singles, they include: “Longing for you”, “Gonna get along without you now”, “Til’ I waltz again with you”, “Richochet”, “Jilted”, “Let me go, lover”, “A tear fell” and “A sweet, old-fashioned girl”. In 1956 she got the New York Yankees center field player, Mickey Mantle to appear as a guest on her recorded homage to him, “I love Mickey”!
Coral released six great albums during 1956-1961, showing off to great effect the many sides of Teresa: “Teresa” (1957), “Time For Teresa” (1958), “Miss Music” (also 1958), and “Heavenly Lover” (1960). She was at her swingin’ best on 1960’s “Teresa Brewer & The Dixieland Band“, and showed off her tender, sensual side on 1959’s beautiful collection of ballads, called “When Your Lover Has Gone“….

After her two last hits on Coral, “Have you ever been lonely” (1960) and “Milord” (1961), Teresa at first signed with Phillips in 1962 and spent 5 years on that label, later moving on to record for Flying Dutchman Records and Red Baron Records. From the early 60’s and up to the 90’s, Teresa made many truly great albums, and this is the period that I consider the most exciting (and important) of her career. She had earlier been labeled “Miss Versatility”, but from this point on, she would more than prove just how fitting that tag was!

On her 1960 album “Ridin’ High“, Teresa gets to do big band swing – and does she ever swing! This album shows her natural talent for jazz, one which she continued to develop. For about 5 minutes in the early 60s, Hawaii Music was quite popular, and several singers hopped on the wagon to record exotic and tropical stuff that was supposed to be Hawaiian style. Despite all their talent in other fields, you can easily just skip the Hawaiian outings by such terrific singers as Joni James and Connie Francis. Teresa made her album “Aloha From Teresa” in 1961, and it is no worse than any other releases in this awful genre, but we can easily say that songs like “Lovely Hula Hands” and “Princess Poo-Poo Ly” (no, it’s not about what you might think!) certainly are no highlights to be looking back on…

 

A big band swing album from 1961

A big band swing album from 1961

 

1963/64 gave us the albums “Terrific Teresa“, which is basically a pop record with a certain country flavour. She also made a covers album called “Golden Hits Of 1964” – which is just that. The first of these includes great stuff like “Like I Do” and “Am I That Easy To Forget”. The second sees Miss Tess putting her own special stamp on recent hits like “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Suspicion”, “My Boy Lollipop” and “The Girl From Ipanema”. Both albums are highly recommended, as they show off different aspects of Teresa to very good advantage.

Her 1965 album “Don’t Mess With Tess” is another album of swinging standards, like “You Came A Long Way From St. Louis” and “Down With Love”. Another album consisting of covers came out 1966 – called “Gold Country“. Teresa’s voice certainly is very well suited to country, and this album is stuffed with great versions of more or less well-known songs like “Evil On Your Mind”, “Make The World Go Away”, “Once A Day” and “The Tip Of My Fingers”.

 

Despite the glittering coctail dress and the tiara, this is just 100% pure country!

Despite the glittering coctail dress and the tiara, this is just 100% pure country!

Another country-flavoured album appeared in 1967, but this time with a Tijuana touch as well…. Called “Texas Leather And Mexican Lace“, it shows Tess sinking her chops into stuff like “Mexican Joe”, “Spanish Flea” and “The Wayward Wind”. This musical hybrid was a late 1960s fad, and as such it is one of the best examples you can find.

Upon entering the 1970s, we get to a really exciting period in Teresa’s career. On single releases, she re-recorded her old 1950 hit “Music, Music Music” twice: First as a rock song, and in 1976 she did it as an extended disco song, and proved that she could easily have been a disco diva as well if she’d chosen to!

The 1971 album “Teresa In London With Oily Rags” is a true highlight! The opening track, “Come Running” is nothing but hard rock, and at the end it turns into an almost gospel feverish ending, with Teresa really wailing in a way you’d not thought possible! Other standouts on this album are “Heading Out East” and a stunning interpretation of Kris Kristofferson´s “The Pilgrim Chapter”. The album closes with the quite long “Tomorrow Is Today”, on which she starts out backed only by a tinkering piano, but during the five minutes the track lasts it turned into a Heavy rock ballad. Truly one of her absolutely best albums, not only for the stunning vocals but also because it truly reveals what a diverse and magnificent artist Teresa is.

 

London obviously turned Teresa into a rocker of the first rank. A GREAT album!

London obviously turned Teresa into a rocker of the first rank. A GREAT album!

 

She followed this masterpiece with another stunning album, 1973’s “Singin’ A Doo-Dah Song“. By this time you wouldn’t know quite what to expect from Teresa, and she certainly gives a few surprises on this one too;  “Cotton Fields” is done very fast, and she also yodels a bit. “Guantanamera” is done with mandolins and Spanish guitars, and sung in Spanish. She does a great version of Kenny Loggins’ “Vahevala” and “Danny’s Song” (made famous by Anne Murray). Add to this two tracks mostly connected with Bessie Smith: “Cake Walking Babies From Home” and “You’ve Been A Good Ol’ Wagon” – and you get quite a varied musical package!

 

This 1973 album is stuffed with musical surprises! Obviously there is no end to what she can do!

This 1973 album is stuffed with musical surprises! Obviously there is no end to what she can do!

 

Next up was the 1975 album “Unliberated Woman” – which is in the country rock style. Stand out tracks from this one is “Some Songs” – very strange that this great little nugget didn´t get more airplay – and “Hang It Up & Let It Go” plus the slinky, funky “For The Heart”.  The final track is the nice rocker “Deep Is My Love”. The whole album once again proves that Tess, musically, by this point in her career could do absolutely everything!

 

This honky tonkin´1975 collection of country rock is also highly recommended!

This honky tonkin´1975 collection of country rock is also highly recommended!

 

1977 saw the release of yet another album, titled “Teresa Brewer´s New Album“. This time around she goes for an adult contemporary approach, and the album is a great collection of MOR songs. The song “Tonight I Sleep Alone” has been much praised, and rightly so. Musically, this was the first instance in popular music where the lyrics deal with the woman turning the guy down, telling him “put your clothes back on and get out of my house“… Teresa shows a flair for acting out the lyrics like a story, and this song is thus one of her true masterpieces, and one of the best recordings she ever did. The opening track “Moonglow/Theme From Picnic” is a song dating back to the 50s, but Teresa does it in a pop-disco mode, and it works very well as such! After Judy Collins turned “Send In The Clowns” into hit of the year in 1975, it has been much recorded. Teresa offers her version here, and it is done in a gentle and intimate way – bringing out a lot of beautiful nuances in the song. There is also a funny, gospel styled song called “Gonna Telephone Jesus”, as well as a disco versions of “Hello Dolly” and “I´ve Got You Under My Skin”.

 

This 1977 albums contains disco, gospel and an all time adult contemporary ballad masterpiece

This 1977 albums contains disco, gospel and an all time adult contemporary ballad masterpiece

 

Teresa ended the 1970s by releasing an album made with Earl Hines, called “We Love You, Fats” (1979). And this collection is dedicated to the songs of Fats Waller. The two of them conjure up everything that is great about Fats Waller, and they seem to be enjoying each others company in the studio. Teresa jumps head on into classics like “The Joint Is Jumping”, “Keepin´Out Of Mischief Now” and “Honeysuckle Rose” and does marvellous versions of all of them!

You´re gonna love Fats too when you hear what Teresa and Earl do with his songs!

You´re gonna love Fats too when you hear what Teresa and Earl do with his songs!

 

This album also in a way marked the starting point for the rest of Teresa´s career, as she continued releasing excellent jazz records all through the 80s & 90s. As a jazz singer, she is right up there with the best of them – and I bet Anita O´Day must have felt her as a strong competitor for the title of greatest white jazz singer ever!

During the approximately 50 years she made records, Teresa certainly did a little bit of everything – and obviously there was nothing that she couldn´t do vocally or musically.

Truly versatile, truly one of the greatest singers to ever live – truly and totally Teresa Brewer!

Singer & mum: Teresa in 1973 with her four daughters Mega, Susan, Kathleen and Michelle. Obviously, beauty runs in the family...

Singer & mum: Teresa in 1973 with her four daughters Megan, Susan, Kathleen and Michelle. Obviously, beauty runs in the family…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming next: A profile on Teresa Brewer

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Teresa Brewer (1931 – 2007) seems to have faded a little into obscurity, at least in Europe. Mostly regarded as a perky fifties singer who sang cute, funny songs in a doll like voice – I find it’s time to dig a little deeper into the career of this wonderful, versatile singer.

 

A great view AND Teresa Brewer!

A great view AND Teresa Brewer!

 

Ms. Brewer was a recording artist from 1949 and into the early 1990’s, and she did incredibly much more than just sing cute novelty songs! The young girl who recorded “Music, music, music” and “Molasses, molasses” in the early 1950’s later turned into a allround singer, who recorded more than 600 songs.

Teresa did pop, r & b, country, rock, jazz and even some disco in the 1970’s. And that funny, squeeky voice was actually an instrument of great versatility, something I personally discovered when I sat down and really listened for the first time!

Coming soon; a closer look into the treasure trove of albums the great Teresa Brewer left behind, stay tuned….

 

PATTI – a PAGE in everyone’s life

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2013 got off to a rather sad start, musically that is. On January 1st the golden voice of Patti Page was silenced forever, and one of the true American cultural icons left this world. She left behind an incredible amount of records – the sales of which have been certified at over 100 millions, her 1950 single “Tennessee Waltz” alone sold over 15 millions. Patti made her first record in 1947, and stayed actively in show business up to late 2012 – when she announced on her website that she was retiring due to health reasons. That concluded 65 years of singing, recording and performing – and a career which stands as unparalleled in musical history.

To sum up everything Patti has done is nearly impossible, and all aspects of her career and musical legacy have been discussed already. I will do the personal angle on this, and talk a little about my personal views on Patti Page. She most certainly was a page in the book of my life as well. What never ceases to amaze me is that every person I meet has their own view on Patti Page, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s never heard of her. Whether she is a pop singer, a country singer or a jazz singer depends on your taste in music – but Patti has done all kinds of music, and her versatility is just amazing…..

Patti Page (1927 - 2013)

Patti Page (1927 – 2013)

Born with the name Clara Ann Fowler on November 8 1927, the renamed Patti Page died on January 1 2013 at the Seacrest Village Retirement Community, of heart and lung ailments at the age of 85.

Patti is usually classified as one of the classic pop vocalists, which she is. She is also labelled a country singer, which is also correct. Even on some of her pop records, she added a certain country flavor. She did jazzy stuff with big bands, she did her share of silly novelty songs and she recorded an album of American hymns, and Christmas songs. Add to it a whole lot of different stuff; Patti did rock ‘n’ roll and twist, she recorded the English Version of the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest Winning entry, Vicky Leandros’ “Apres Toi”, she recorded Philly Soul (Gamble & Huffs “A Brand New Me”) in the late 60’s and Elton Johns theme from “The Lion King” movie, “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” in the late 90’s. So checking out Pattis recorded legacy will have you finding a lot of well known songs, and quite a lot of musical surprises!

A very early LP, this 10" album collects her hits of the late 1940s

A very early LP, this 10″ album collects her hits of the late 1940s

Patti was known to be technically perfect, and usually the first take on any recording was used as the final product. So researchers have been known to be surprised that they never find any alternate takes, That of course also could be one reason there is such an incredible amount of records to be found – she used all her studio time very well, and she was known to learn new material very quickly.

Even from the late 1940s, Patti had albums released, and while a lot of them just collected her most recent hits and popular songs of the day, some of the others had more of a theme, ie. “The Waltz Queen”, her recording of Gordon Jenkins “Manhattan Tower” and her 1962 album “Sings Golden HIts of The Boys” which is a great collection of Patti doing songs that had been hits for male artists like Rick Nelson, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and Chubby Checker… Playing these three albums back to back will give a you marvellous lesson in versatility!

Everybody knows Patti’s biggest hits; “Tennessee Waltz”, “”(How Much Is That) Doggie In The Window”, “Cross Over The Bridge”, “Old Cape Cod”, “Allegheny Moon” and others… And if those are the songs you want when you go buying Patti Page records, you can get several hundreds of best of/greatest hits collections that will satisfy your needs… If you want to dig a little deeper beyond those well known 50’s hits – you also have several options – some great collections that will no doubt be of great musical value.

50 years after her first record came out, this great box set was released in 1997

50 years after her first record came out, this great box set was released in 1997

The 4 disc box set “Golden Celebration” was released in 1997, celebrating her first 50 years as a singer. You get all her hits of the 50s and 60s on the first two discs. The Third disc contains her best country songs, and the fourth is dedicated to her more jazzy, big band material. The set also contains some songs that had been previously very hard to find. Highly recommended for all music lovers!

Patti herself chose to celebrate her 50th Anniversary as a singer with a concert in Carnegie Hall, that was recorded and later released on disc as “Live at Carnegie Hall – The 50th Anniversary Concert”, a disc that later won Patti her first Grammy Award in the category “Best Traditional Pop Record” – very well deserved!

Patti, an obviously happy 1997 Grammy Award winner. And for a new album none the less!

Patti, an obviously happy 1997 Grammy Award winner. And for a new album none the less!

In recent years, the UK based label Jasmine Records has given the world a musical gift that is truly great; they have put together no less than 3 very thorough collections, which are widely available in the webshops and also as downloads. With brilliant liner notes that contains the dates of recording and all other facts collectors might want to know. Put together, you get 267 different songs – and with it Patti Page at her very best, in a lot of different musical settings. They are pictured below, so you’ll know what to look for!

The first of the Jasmine box sets, "Near To You"

The first of the Jasmine box sets, “Near To You”

“Near To You – Celebrating a Career Defining Class” does what it says on the tin! You get 111 songs, mostly from the late 1940 and the 1950. Here’s the place to start your Patti Page musical Journey!

The second box set from Jasmine Records

The second box set from Jasmine Records

You will be transported back to “Another Time, Another Place” with the second of Jasmine Records box sets. This one contains more of her 50’s output, some of the 60’s country records, a couple of Christmas songs, some religious tracks, and it also includes some rarities not commercially released previously – even radio spots and jingles!

"Keep Me In Mind" is the last of the Jasmine Records collections of Patti Page

“Keep Me In Mind” is the last of the Jasmine Records collections of Patti Page

Added to the two previously mentioned box set, is the singe disc “Keep Me In Mind”. You get even more rarities here, some novelty tunes and some very hard to find tracks that were originally put out as 7″ B-sides, and after listening to all three collections, there is no way your mind will not be on Patti Page!

Many of the albums Patti recorded from the mid-1960’s onwards seem to be rather neglected, and most of them are deleted from the catalogues and are quite hard to find these days. Collectables have put out three “2 on 1” discs, at least giving 6 of those albums a limited re-release. If, however, you can find any of these original albums anywhere – my suggestion is that you just buy, buy, buy!! Keep an eye out for: “Say Wonderful Things” (1963), “Blue Dream Street” (1964), “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” (1965), “Today My Way” (1967), “Gentle On my Mind” (1969), “Stand By Your Man” and “Honey Come Back” (both 1970), “I’d Rather Be Sorry” (1971), “A Touch Of Country” (1979), “No Aces” (1981) and “Special Thoughts” (1982) – they are all worth having, and they all give you yet another perspective on the wonderful musical legacy of Patti Page!

After winning her 1997 Grammy, Patti ventured into the studios once more, and recorded what turned out to be her last regular album (it was followed by another Christmas disc) in 2000. Titled “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” it links Patti of the past with Patti of today in a great musical setting. Sounding mature and confident – it is a great contemporary country record, showing once and for all that even at age 73 Patti was right at home with the current trends, she still sang very well and sounded exactly right doing country music in the new millennium also…

Patti's last album, "Brand New Tennessee Waltz" came out in 2000

Patti’s last album, “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” came out in 2000

In addition to the title track, this album also includes that other, by now quite old “Tennessee Waltz” – redone 50 years after the original was made, and so you can favourably compare Patti’s versions and see which one you like the best. She does a bluesy cover of Tammy Wynette’s old hit “Til I Get It Right”, turning the song inside out, and making it sound like it was tailor made for Patti Page. By this time, after 53 years of making records, Patti had done everything at least once, she had sung her way into billions of hearts, had numerous hits, singles and albums on the charts – and she had done all of it exactly right!

Fran Warren – An every day kinda love…

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Next up in my series of Big Band Singers who went on to solo stardom, is the fabulous Fran Warren. She started out singing very young, and by the time she was 22 she had left big band singing behind and was enjoying her newfound solo stardom. For a short time in the late 40’s and 50’s she was one of the most versatile girl singers, a vocal powerhouse and physically very beautiful. She definitely was both ear candy and eye candy at the same time!

Fran - totally gorgeous, ca. 1948

Fran WARREN (March 4, 1926 – ) was born in New York City. She was just 15 when she started out as a chorus girl at the Roxy in New York, and at 16 she auditioned for Duke Ellington’s band without success. She did get to sing with a couple of other bands though, and for the next three years she was very visible and audible around New York singing with the bands of Randy Brooks, Art Mooney and Billy Eckstine. She replaced Kay Starr in Charlie Barnets orchestra, and by 1947 she was hired by Claude Thornhill.

In May of 1947 Columbia released “A Sunday Kind Of Love” by the Claude Thornhill band, Fran Warren’s first charted record. It was a good seller and made it into the Top 20. It’s regarded as one of the most soulful big band ballads of its time, and was also recorded later by Etta James. Fran recorded 14 sides with Thornhill during 1947, some notable songs are “I get the blues when it rains”, “We knew it all the time”, “You’re Not So Easy To Forget”,  “Love For Love” (with a sax solo by Lee Konitz), “Early Autumn”, which reached 22 on the charts in late 1947,  “Tell Me Why”, “I Remember Mama”  “Just About This Time Last Night” and “For Heaven’s Sake”. Fran’s complete recordings with Claude Thornhill’s band have been released on CD.

Her complete recordings with Claude Thornhill 1946-47

By 1948 Fran, who was maybe just too attention-grabbing to be just another band singer, was all set for a solo career. Despite a recording strike going on in 1948, she still managed to make enough records and public appearances to get started on her own. She was signed to RCA Victor records and began recording in mid 1948. “Why Is It?”, “Joe”, “Why Can’t You Behave?”, “What’s My Name?” were all among her first solo recordings.In July of 1949 “A Wonderful Guy” from the Broadway show “South Pacific” was a hit, reaching number 17. This was followed by “Envy” which hit number 12. She then made a duet with Tony Martin; “I Said My Pajamas And Put On My Prayers”. It’s quite a silly little novelty tune, but none the less performed convincingly. It was stuck in the charts for 4 months and got to number 3.

A great collection of Fran's 1946-50 records

The 1950’s was truly Fran’s golden decade. She spread her talent all around, making a lot of records, she was in an Abbott & Costello movie, she was on TV and did concerts and club dates all around the USA.

In the spring of 1950 another duet, this time with Lisa Kirk on “Dearie” was a top 25 seller and was followed by more duets with Tony Martin: “Darn It Baby That’s Love”  and “That We Is Me And You”. In late 1950 Fran Warren recorded “I Love The Guy” on RCA #3848, another top 25 seller. Other notable songs from the early 1950’s are:  “My Silent Love”, “Look To The Rainbow”, “I’ll Know”,  “Stranger In The City” and a cover of Ruth Brown’s recent hit “Teardrops From My Eyes”.

Fran also got to record her versions of some well-known standards like “Stormy Weather”, “Over The rainbow”, “One For My Baby”, “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues”,  “Let’s Fall In Love”,  “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” and “The Boy Next Door”.  In late 1953 Fran had one last hit on the best seller charts; “It’s Anybody’s Heart”.

The one song from this period that really stands out is “Temptation”, on which Fran sings only accompanied by drums. It is the most remarkable performance she ever made, and it’s totally unique. It sounds like nothing any other singer recorded at the time, and even today her version of this song is a true masterpiece. If music videos had been made then, I picture Fran as some sort of temple goddess, singing surrounded by torches in some exotic location focusing her attention on some handsome guy who obviously is all “temptation”…

CD collection of Fran's complete 1950-55 recordings

Strictly more of a pop singer, than a jazz interpreter, Fran could still at various points be considered to have a feeling for jazz, and even the blues. An emotional singer when the material calls for it, she bites into the lyrics and is a convincing performer of songs that need an extra touch of emotion. Verve was the leading jazz label from the 1950’s on, and in 1955 Fran had the chance to make an album for them. “Mood Indigo” didn’t set the charts or the critics on fire at the time of release. Still, it’s a very good album, and one I’m happy to see now being available in digital version by iTunes. You get none of the cute, funny stuff here – but it’s a perfect chance to hear Fran from her most bluesy and soulful  side.

The 1955 LP she made for Verve; highly recommended!

During the mid-50’s, Fran starred in the musical “The Pajama Game” for a long run, and one of the songs from that show was made the title track of the album she made in 1957; “Hey There! Here’s Fran Warren”. It seems to be her most popular album ever, and rightly so. It shows off all the best of Fran’s talent, and is probably the album for which she is best remembered. It has been released in both digital format and on CD. The last CD edition expands the album with 12 bonus tracks, most of them single sides she made around the same time.

Her classic 1957 album, the expanded CD version

After the advent of Rock ‘n Roll, Fran  – like most other classic pop singers – had to reconsider her musical directions. It’s was either go with the current flow, or stick to your own thing. Luckily, Fran chose that latter – making a very good album in 1962, dedicated to songs from the Great American Songbook, as well as some recent musical hits. “Something’s Coming From Fran Warren” is currently available again, and it is also highly recommended.

Her great 1962 album - get it!!

Fran went on tour with Harry James and his band in the mid-60’s, and she also starred in one of the many performances of the musical “Mame” – seemingly well suited to playing the title character. She rounded out the 1960’s by releasing 2 albums in a row; 1968 saw her trying out new directions by going country on “Fran Warren in Nashville”. This album contains the hilariously funny “All American Sport”, about a newly wed bride unable to get her marriage consummated because her husband is just watching sports on TV and running around with his friends to all sorts of games! In 1969, another album came out, called “Come Into My World”. This is very much a middle-of-the-road pop records of its time, and Fran does a wonderful version of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” here, as well as the musical hit “If I ruled the world”. As far as I know, this 1969 album marks the last time Fran recorded. I know of no other records being made after this, even though she kept on singing actively for many years.

"Come into my world" (1969), Fran's last original studio album

She seems to have worked very little during the early 1970’s, but by 1979 she was once again back on the scene. Hooking up with trumpet player Joe Cabot, the two of them toured with a revue called “The Big Broadcast of 1944”. They did this for 3 years, ending with a couple of sold-out engagements in 1982 at “Michael’s Pub”, a very popular New York Jazz Club. Fran, like many of her colleagues from the 30’s and 40’s, was also seen on TV’s “Juke Box Saturday Night”. She was still sounding good, and looking as though her debut record from 35 years earlier must have been made at the age of 10!

Publicity photo of Fran from around 1979

From the mid-1980’s, she seems to have faded from view, and settled in Connecticut. I’m sure she’s happy about the fact that most of her wonderful recordings have been re-released during the last two decades, and she’s probably gained a lot of new fans who weren’t around when she started out almost 70 years ago.

She still makes public appearances every now and then, but as a singer she seems to have gone into a complete retirement, one that has lasted – at this writing – into her 87th year.

Fran might have yearned for a “Sunday kind of love” way back 65 years ago – but I think she will receive love every day of the week from anyone who’s heard her sing. She easily ranks with the very best of the classic pop singers of the 21st century!

Fran at the age of 78, attending the celebration of cabaret singer Hildegarde's 98th birthday. Still looking great!

Ethel Merman …away from the stage

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Ethel MERMAN (1908-84) was the undisputed queen of American musical theatre, and also regarded as The Queen of Broadway. And of course she earned the title from starring in an incredible string of great musicals from 1930 until 1970.  Shows like “Girl Crazy” (1930), “Annie Get Your Gun” (1946), “Call Me Madam” (1950) and “Gypsy”(1959) are all musicals in which she starred and triumphed and they are forever linked to her name. She also acted in a lot of movies, and appeared on TV shows right up to the end. On Youtube you can see clips of Ethel from just about every decade, including duets with both Sha Na Na and the Muppets!

Vocally Ethel is a powerhouse! Her voice lies in the mezzo range, and she has the kind of booming sound that hits the back of the theatre even without a microphone. Also blessed with a very clear enunciation, she will get the message through no matter what. That kind of voice may be an acquired taste, but there’s no doubt that Ethel still belongs with the very best of singers of the 20th century.

Just about every show she starred has had “original cast” album released, and she’s also re-recorded a lot of her most famous songs on other occasions. However, she also made a string of “regular” albums and records that reveals Merman the Singer, as opposed to Merman on Stage – front and center! The albums I will be talking about here, will follow the timeline of her singing career in its entirety, starting with the first one made in 1932 and ending with her final album in 1979.

 

 

 

 

Ethel 1932-50: This collection contains Ethel’s first recordings, made 1932 and including her most famous songs from the 30’s and 40’s, ending with a number from “Annie Get Your Gun” recorded 1950. A good overview of her early years!

 

 

 

 

Ethel 1950-51: “The World Is Your Balloon – The Decca Singles 1950-51” is a quite recently released collection of just what the title says. The novelty craze was sweeping the world at this time, and a lot of this stuff is quite funny and she does several duets with Ray Bolger and Jimmy Durante. Stuff like “Ma, she’s shimmying on the beach again” might not be aimed for the top of the charts, but it’s quite good. Also included is a stunning version of the classic bluesy ballad “Make the man love me” which Ethel does to perfection!

 

 

 

 

Ethel 1955: You get 2 in 1 here, as this CD collects two of her mid-fifties albums, “Musical Memories” and “Ethel Merman, A Musical Autobiography”. The first 10 tracks are medleys of “sing along” tunes hailing from the turn of the century, cheerfully done in the atmosphere of a cosy club or even your neighborhood pub! The next 15 tracks finds Ethel doing spoken intros to all the songs, and thereby creating a musical autobiography telling you a little about the songs and the shows they were featured in. No new material then, but done in a new way – with narratives.

 

 

 

 

Ethel 1961: With Billy May’s orchestra, Ethel recreates 11 of her most famous songs with fresh, new arrangements. Billy May was no slouch dealing with powerhouse vocalists, and the two of them obviously enjoyed working together as the results from these sessions truly are “… Her Greatest”

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel 1964: Naturally, the queen of musicals also did Las Vegas! This is a live recording of her 1964 club appearance there. It shows a relaxed, funny Ethel in very good voice doing her one-woman show before an appreciative audience!

 

 

 

Ethel 1972: Recorded in Great Britain in 1972 with Stanley Black conducting a large orchestra, Ethel does yet another round of her most famous songs including a very sassy “Eadie was a Lady”.

 

 

 

Ethel 1974: Also made in Great Britain, “Ethel’s Ridin’ High” from 1974 still finds her with one foot in the world of musicals, but this time she turns her attention to shows she herself had not been starring in. At 66 her vocal power still was not diminished, and she does songs from “Fiddler on the roof”, “Man of La Mancha” and “Stop The World! I Want To Get Off” and others, giving them her personal, queenly stamp!

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel 1979: After 47 years of recording, and almost 50 years experience in stage musicals, there wasn’t much of the American standard repertoire or show tunes Ethel hadn’t sung. Still the trooper and wanting to work, she did something that left the world in a state of shock; at 71 she did a DISCO album! The approach was new, the material wasn’t; Ethel did some of her famous songs, only this time to a disco beat, in extended versions surrounded by synthesizers and back-up singers. The record is pure kitsch of course, but still shows that her voice was good and you have to give her credit for doing something so absolutely crazy. The arrangements are good, you can definitely dance to it and it is indeed the last session she ever recorded.

So… there’s my personal opinion of some very good records that will take you through the career of the incredible Ethel Merman!

Happy birthday, Johnnie Ray!

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Johnnie would have turned 85 years old today, if he was still alive. Unfortunately, this very talented singer died in 1990, but he left behind an awesome legacy of music, and ALL of it is available!

Described by various sources as the link between Sinatra and Presley, I consider Johnnie’s music to be almost a category of its own. His unique way of merging the well-known crooning style of Sinatra, Dick Haymes and others, he also added a lot of things that would be regarded as substantial elements when rock n’ roll arrived. Johnnie used his voice in a new way, singing very rhythmically and fusing the black feeling of the blues into a primarily new style, adding bits of country, cabaret and rhythm & blues along the way and the result was something never heard before.

Adding to all this, he also had a stage personality that was new in the early 50’s. Johnnie swung his hips, tore at his hair, flung himself on the piano, danced with the microphone stand and did things vocally that was creating a sensation.

Johnnies first record came out 1951, his last was recorded in 1969. The German record company Bear Family has released his entire output on record. They come in two big boxes of 5 CDs, each with a big hard cover book. More than 200 songs recorded over almost 20 years, the music paints a portrait of a singer whose talent is too little appreciated, but none the less shows what a fabulous singer Johnnie was. You get standards, blues songs, a little country, some early rock ‘n roll, some very soulful stuff he made in the mid-to-late 60’s, his duets with Doris Day, Frankie Laine, Timi Yuro and you really owe it to yourself to check this guy out! Also included are two live albums, and the songs from his 1954 movie “There’s no business like show business”, in which he costarred with Ethel Merman, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Dan Dailey and Marilyn Monroe.

Although he made no records after 1969, he still toured the world constantly and he remained a popular and very dynamic entertainer up to the very end. He was plagued by ill-health in his later years, and finally died of liver failure in February 1990 at the age of 63.

My house will be filled with the great sound of Johnnies voice all day today, in my personal celebration of what would have been his 85th birthday!

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