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!

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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