The Crooners & Radio

The Microphone

 

Interlude - the crooners & the girls.

Louis was an incredible innovator. Louis started popular singing, with 'Heebie Jeebies' and 'Stardust'. Al Jolson was a shouty minstrel, until he picked it up in the theatre and Bing Crosby led the radio wave, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday interpreted it, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald perfected it.

In the mid 1920s the radio microphone was perfected, sensitive to soft sounds and popular singing changed. Instead of having to project their voices to the back of theatres singers developed subtleties of emotion and sentimentality only made possible by the new mics. As radio went coast to coast in 1928 Eddie Cantor et al and then Bing Crosby murmured and got real close to the listener and caressed them. A blend of romantic schmaltz, novelty song and Louis jazz phrasing made the technology seem innovative.

al jolson (1886-1950)

Eddie Cantor (1892-1964) 'Banjo Eyes' the song & dance man on the radio and 'Makin' Whoopee', 'Ida', 'If You Knew Susie', 'Ma! He's Makin' Eyes at Me', 'Margie' ... another successful Russian Jew who made it out of Vaudeville ...  Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 ... he continued in the Follies until 1927 ...

Rudy Valée (1901-86) a band leader who started singing into a microphone with his wavering tenor voice, the first of the crooners and a pop idol. A sweet man not a jazz man. A handsome singer turned movie star.

Gene Austin (1900-72) a Texan boy who learned to play the guitar and sing in Vaudeville ... and he adjusted to the close to mic murmur for radio ... and he wrote songs, 'When My Sugar Walks Down the Street', 'How Come You Do Me Like You Do' and 'The Lonesome Road' became big in pop and jazz ... he recorded 'Bye Bye Blackbird' 1926, 'My Blue Heaven' 1928, 'Ramona' 1927, 'Carolina Moon' 1928 ... both Crosby and Sinatra credited Austin with a lasting influence ...

bing crosby (1903-77) records, radio and movies ... he arrived via The Big Band ...

Then the 2nd generation theatre songs, the standards, dried up and the crooners fell into an abyss, Bing and Sinatra dusted themselves down and then came Elvis Presley and the resurgent energy of black Blues.

There were girls also - in the early 20th century, female Vaudeville singers & comediennes were the richest independent women in the country. Without political power during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, they were revered as angels and a splendid antidote to the macho men who caused all the trouble as they erroneously assumed they were making all the decisions. The girls sang, danced & they were funny. Women in the audience understood them and the men could look at them.

Ruth EttingRuth Etting (1897-1978) was a blue eyed blonde with a stunning voice; America's Sweetheart of Song ... Ziegfeld Follies 1927, 'Shine On, Harvest Moon', 'Ten Cents a Dance' and 'Love Me or Leave Me', 'Button Up Your Overcoat', 'Mean to Me', 'Exactly Like You' and 'Shaking the Blues Away' ... over sixty hit recordings ...

Ruth was a chorus girl who made her own style and married 'Moe the Gimp' Snyder a gangster who managed her career successfully ... but it all ended in acrimony and the law courts ...

 In 1933 in Hollywood she starred with Eddie Cantor in 'Roman Scandals'.

There were many other Vaudevillians who tried their hand at song, but were largely theatre singers and not crooners including - Maggie Cline (1857-1934), Lillian Russell (1860-1922), May Irwin (1863-1938), Marie Cahill (1866-1933), Trixie Friganza (1870-1955),  Alice Lloyd (1873-1949), Irene Franklin (1876-1941), Eva Tanguay (1879–1947), Louise Dresser (1879-1965), Fritzi Scheff (1879-1954), Nora Bayes (1880-1928), Irene Bordoni (1885-1953), Florence Moore (1886-1935), Fanny Brice (1891-1951), Blossom Seeley (1891-1974), Mae West (1893-1980), Helen Morgan (1900-41), Kate Smith (1907-86), Ethel Merman (1908-84) ... lots were daughters of immigrant Jews making their mark in entertainment and learning the rhythms of the blacks ...

The Boswell Sisters - Connee (1907-1976), Martha (1908-1958) and Helvetia ("Vet") (1909-1988) constituted the most popular female vocal group before The Andrews Sisters, and created some of the most exciting recordings of the early 30s - still sounding amazing today. They enjoyed 20 hits before breaking up, when the remarkable, wheelchair-bound Connee continued a great solo career, influencing a generation of singers such as Ella Fitzgerald. But as a trio, the Sisters were never matched. Shout, Sister, Shout! was their signature tune. Major hits, including their first success, the incredible 'When I Take My Sugar To Tea', and 'Dinah', 'I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter', 'Roll On Mississippi Roll On', 'Rock And Roll', 'It's The Girl' and the chart-topping 'The Object Of My Affection' - each one a tour de force. The Sisters' jazz flair was invariably enhanced by the accompaniment of some of the top musicians in jazz, and fine solos by such as Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan, Benny Goodman, Manny Klein, Artie Shaw and Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang all add to the enjoyment.

One of the all-time greatest jazz vocal groups, the Boswell Sisters, Martha, Vet and Connee, began their career in the vaudeville houses of New Orleans. Connee, paralyzed from the waist down by a childhood accident (though her disability was often attributed to polio), always performed sitting down. Gifted musicians as well as singers, the sisters also worked at a local radio station, performing classical and semi-classical instrumentals. (Martha played piano, Vet played violin, banjo and guitar, and Connee played cello, saxophone and guitar.) Their careers took off when the radio station gave them a daily singing program.
The sisters' harmonic vocals, dotted with scatting and numerous tempo and key changes, quickly made them popular in New Orleans and beyond. They recorded several songs during the twenties, but it wasn't until 1930, when they recorded four songs for the Okeh label, that they finally achieved popular recognition. They later signed with Brunswick, and between 1930 and 1936 they were the hottest vocal group in the country. They appeared in several movies and were regulars on Bing Crosby's radio program. Many of their hit recordings were made with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. Both Vet and Martha retired from show business in 1936. Connee went on enjoy a mildly successful solo career.

The Andrew Sisters, followed the Boswells ...

Annette HanshawAnnette Hanshaw (1911-85) was born in New York City and died there. As a teenager she was discovered as a singer at a party and she became a personality girl recording with top bands like Harry Reser's Clicquot Club Eskimos and Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra and was accompanied by musicians like Jimmy Dorsey and Jimmy Lytell. She made a lot of recordings in the 1920s and early 1930s (she stopped singing in 1936) with bands like the Original Memphis Five, Sam Lanin's Orchestras and Frank Ferera's Hawaiian Trio. She was also known as Gay Ellis, Dot Dare and Patsy Young on other labels.
Her 'signature' was her 'That's All' at the end of each recording. I guess she must have said that at one of her first recordings when she was only 15 years old ... may be her relief that the recording had finished!

These were the players ... Frank Sinatra commanded the heights.

With radio the Crooners could be heard in Hi Fi ... in Hollywood they were a spectacle ... when TV arrived they were invited into your living room ...

 

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