Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jukebox Saturday Nite-Margaret Whiting

I first met song star Margaret Whiting in 1985 at Westbury Music Fair,  now called Capital One Theater.  When radio station WNEW showcased their Make Believe Ballroom show that starred famed disc jockey William B. Williams, practically a one man institution known to all as William B. His catch-phrase was always, "Hello, World!"

Margaret loved William B. and agreed to sing on the show along with balladeer Billy Eckstine, both backed by one of my old friends in this business, Larry O'Brien,  music director of the world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra. Margaret and I sat down and had a long talk about her famous dad, Tin Pan Alley songwriter Richard Whiting, who wrote some pretty good tunes: " My Ideal," " Til We Meet Again," "Breezin'Along with the Breeze,"
" She's Funny That Way," The Japanese Sandman," and "Ain't We Got Fun," and many more. Margaret often recorded the songs her father wrote.

We also recounted her own career up to that time, her great recording claim to fame being her 1952 endearing version of "A Tree in the Meadow," although her first big hit was "That Old Black Magic," written by Johnny Mercer, the prolific songwriter who helped her grow up, acting as surrogate father, after her dad died in 1938 when she was still just a young girl.  Her recordings of "Moonlight in Vermont" and "It Might as Well Be Spring" are also signature songs. The latter title is also the title of her biography. Margaret is undoubtedly one of the best singers of the golden age of music, classed with the excellence of Helen Forrest, Connie Haines and Rosemary Clooney.

Well, bringing you up-to-speed, Margaret and I will were guests at the 2009 Al Jolson convention in Lynbrook, New York where she  received A Lifetime Appreciation Award from the International Al Jolson Society. I introduced her to the guests.  Margaret once appeared with Al Jolson on a major radio show Alexander's Ragtime Band.  She loved Jolson. Today, I received a letter  from Margaret:

"My aunt, Margaret Young, was in vaudeville with Jolson and my mother and father were two of his biggest fans. He always said that he loved my mother, Eleanor, and sang songs to her in the audience when she was watching him,  and, of course, my father wrote some songs for him, too. Then, when he came back strong after they released his film The Jolson Story in 1947,  I went to Hillcrest ( Country Club in California) to have lunch with him and I did a show with him on the air and saw him quite a few times in different places during his comeback success. Jolson was one of the most magnetic personalities that I ever can remember seeing and I think he earned the title of the World's Greatest Entertainer."

Margaret lives in Manhattan. Her work today consists of her efforts on behalf of the John Mercer Foundation which she leads. The Foundation is committed to preserving the music of Johnny Mercer and his fellow songwriters of the Great American Songbook.

Well, Margaret and I picked up where we left off, although we have talked and exchanged letters over the years.   During lunch, we continued our talks about her experiences with my next book subject, Frank Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board, as William B. once dubbed him. The book will be entitled SINATRA SINGING.  In my book STAR*DUST-The Bible of the Big Bands, my wife Madeline photographed Magaret and I in the same pose we did in 1984 at Westbury and she placed the photos side-by-side. We hadn't changed a drop. Check it out. Richard

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Andrews Sisters and Patty Andrews

It's Apple Blossom Time coming up again. .....

On February 16, 2010 the truly great girl singer of the 1940s (the girl who helped shape American music during the second World War with her two sisters, Maxine and LaVerne) Patty Andrews will be 92 years young.

Patty and I have been friends for many years, ever since our interview in the early eighties when I wrote a magazine article about the Andrews Sisters. She utilized it for selling her then single act in L.A.

I had always been in love with the Andrews Sisters. Ever since I first heard heard Patty and her sisters vocalize "Bie Mir Bist Du Schoen," it was the beginning of my long-running affection for them.

The three gals from Minneapolis were personal entertainers for many a serviceman during the war years with their hits "Rumors are Flying," "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time," and "Rum and Coca Cola."

By her own description, Patty is a very happy and contented girl living in a beautiful, Tudor-style house near Encino, California with her husband and manager Wally Weschler.

Earlier, when they were kids attending dancing school, they began mimicking the popular Boswell Sisters. They entered the Kiddy Reviews during the summer months on the Orpheum Theater Circuit in Minneapolis. One of the headliners on the show invited the girls to become a permanent part of his touring show. They performed five shows a day sandwiched between movie showings. They copied the Boswell's charts.

"When you are young, there is always someone you look up to," Patty told me just before Christmas, "so we did what they did and it helped launch our career." They sang "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "When I Take My Sugar to Tea," and "I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cents Store."

Patty sang the lead and solos, Maxene the high harmony, and LaVerne took the third part, even though they had no formal training.

"We would work all day until we perfected new songs in our own new, bouncier style. It was then we realized we had something special to offer." And offer it they did joining up with a big band and began singing on the radio in New York with Billy Swanson's band at the famed Hotel Edison. It was to be their big break, as Dave Kapp, Vice President of Decca Records heard them on the car radio and rushed to the hotel and signed them the following day.

Decca had them record consistently with all the greats including Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Dick Haymes, Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, Jimmy Dorsey, and every known big band, in a seventeen year triumphant run, as Jack Kapp, President of Decca, took them in hand and guided them to great success as he did for Crosby and many others.

Remember "The Boogie, Woogie, Bugle Boy from Company 'B'," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "Beer Barrel Polka," "Pistol Packin' Mama," "Joseph, Joseph," "Hold Tight," "South America, Take It Away," and "Ferryboat Serenade." I reminded Patty that Ferryboat was my personal favorite. It just clicked with me, but all their songs are great and you can buy them anywhere today in CD form. However, it was "Rum and Coca-Cola" that sold a whopping 7 million records in a time when a million records were hard to sell. The girls also sang those songs at the Stage Door Canteen during the war to help entertain servicemen along with other volunteer celebrities.

Later, the girls performed in movies with Abbott & Costello, the Ritz Brothers, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The movies were The Road to Utopia, Buck Privates, Argentine Nights, Follow the Boys, Stage Door Canteen, and In the Navy.

In 1950 the Andrews Sisters capped their career when they performed at the London Palladium. They broke up a few years later. Patty went on to perform as a single in the 1980s with bands like Tex Beneke, who was fronting the great Glenn Miller Orchestra, then went out on his own, too. She recorded two great hits with Gordon Jenkins Orchestra, "I Want to Be Loved" and "It Never Entered My Mind" being at her melodic best.

To effectively write about the Andrews Sisters, it would take a book. It would take another book to write about Patty Andrews own single career.

With Maxene and LaVerne gone, Patty has retired, although she regularly attends jazz festivals where she meets old friends and enjoys great, live music - music she has always enjoyed both listening to and singing. 

Happy Birthday a litle early Patty Andrews. We love you in advance. Thanks for all that beautiful music. And thanks for the photo you sent me last Christmas.

Frank Sinatra

I'm working on a  new book about the Chairman of the Board:   Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra had an absolutely amazing career that covered all the bases of show business. Writing about him will be both easy and difficult. It was always impossible to hold an interview with him during his later years. I met him several times while at NBC in New York; Once at a Martin and Lewis telethon, and again in my Broadcast Ticket office with RCA V.P Mannie Sacks. This book will be about the music, how he survived above all the competition, how he grew from one career to another, his singing voice always improving, expanding and finding a crescendo of great success.

Connie Haines, who sang shoulder to shoulder with Sinatra back during their Harry James and Tommy Dorsey big band days, told me she was uncomfortable authorizing CD issuance of her duets with him on songs like "Let's Get Away from It All," and "Snootie Little Cutie" on record labels because of the potential legal problems that would be invoked by the Sinatra clan, even though she knows the Sinatra daughters Tina and Nancy. When she was performing in Atlantic City with a "Sinatra" type get together songfest called "Ol' Blue Eyes," the FBI literally burst in and arrested the promoters and scared the hell out of a number of seniors who were attending. The promoter got off, but only after paying an attorney lots of bucks after standing before a judge.

I have always enjoyed the great Sinatra recordings, especially those he made with Dorsey, and subsequently, those he made at Capitol with Nelson Riddle, but I have never enjoyed reading about the disruptive parts of his life: the marriages, the fist fights, the underworld connections, and those never ending disputes with the press. None of that will be in this book. I have left all of that to others who have written before me. However, Sinatra tried to make up for all that negativity by anonymously contributing lots of money to worthy people in need, even if he never met them, and to causes including Sloan-Kettering Hospital, where there is a wing that bears his name, and the Barbara Sinatra hospital charities in California.

So, my book about Frank will be composed of tributes from others like Connie Haines, Harry James, Jo Stafford, Nelson Riddle, clarinetist Johnny Mince, William B. Williams of The Make Believe Ballroom radio show, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, and Frank Sinatra himself. It will tell of his early career when he had only hopes, but, as Jo Stafford once observed early on: "We knew he had something special."

You will especially enjoy the words from Connie Haines, whom we lost a year ago: "Frank and I didn't always get along in those days, but Frank showed his true colors one night - even though we were feuding when singing tunes like "Let's Get Away from It all," and "Oh! Look at Me Now" -when my dress suddenly caught fire because someone tossed a lit cigarette down from the balcony and it got snared in my gown netting. Tommy was still vamping, unaware of what was happening. But, Frank reacted quickly by throwing his suit jacket over me and flinging me to the ground, snuffing out the flames-probably saving my life. We talked about it a few years ago when I appeared with him on television for his 80th birthday. Yes, Frank was really a good man although his ego frequently got in the way. And he was the very best singer of all the singers. That is certainly clear by now."

That's Life. That's what all the people say.
You're riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I'm gonna change my tune
When I'm back on top in June
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king,
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

Well, that's Frank Sinatra for sure.

Jerry Vale will write the introduction, as he was truly a friend of the Voice.  If anyone wants to put their two cents into the book (only about the singing) we would be happy to include it.  Contact Richard if you would like to add some comments or story about Frank's singing.