The Pied Pipers

The Pied Pipers were a popular singing group in the late 1930s and 1940s. Originally they consisted of eight members who had belonged to three separate groups: Jo Stafford from The Stafford Sisters, and seven male singers: John Huddleston, Hal Hopper, Chuck Lowry, Bud Hervey, George Tait, Woody Newbury, and Dick Whittinghill, who had belonged to two groups named The Four Esquires and The Three Rhythm Kings. Multi-instrumentalist Spencer Clark was also a member at one point.

Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl, who were arrangers for Tommy Dorsey‘s big band, heard of the group through two of The King Sisters, Alyce and Yvonne. Weston had a jam session at his home and a visiting advertising executive signed the octet for Dorsey’s radio program, broadcast in New York City. They sang with Dorsey’s orchestra for about six weeks before a British representative of the sponsor objected to some of the songs in their repertoire and fired them. They went back to California, but in the time they had been in New York had recorded two records for RCA Victor Records.

The Pied Pipers singing Johnny Mercer’s, “Dream”

In Los Angeles, the group was reduced to a quartet: Jo Stafford, her then-husband John Huddleston, and Chuck Lowry from the original eight, and Billy Wilson. They were getting very little work, however, and were on the threshold of disbanding when they received a call from Tommy Dorsey (in Chicago). Dorsey said he could not afford to hire eight Pipers but would be happy to have them join him if they could cut the number down to a quartet. As they had already done that, and with only one unemployment check remaining, they were happy to comply.

In 1939, they moved to Chicago, with Clark Yocum, who had played guitar and sung for Dorsey, replacing Wilson. Although Paul Weston left Dorsey to become Dinah Shore‘s music director about that time, he was to figure in the fortunes of the group again.

In 1940, Dorsey hired another vocalist, Frank Sinatra, who had previously sung in a quartet, The Hoboken Four, and later with Harry James‘ orchestra. Sinatra and the Pipers teamed to record a major hit, I’ll Never Smile Again, in that year. The group had twelve more chart hits with Dorsey, ten of them with Sinatra. Also, Jo Stafford herself had a solo hit, Yes Indeed, in 1941.

I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN ~ Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra ~ Frank Sinatra~ The Pied Pipers~ 1940~ Victor Records.

Around Thanksgiving, 1942, Tommy Dorsey (who was prone to incidents of bad temper) became angry at one of the Pipers for sending him in the wrong direction at a railroad station in Portland, Oregon, and fired him. The Pipers, out of “team loyalty,” resigned en masse. At that moment, the #1 record on the charts was There Are Such Things sung by Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers, the last RCA record they did with Dorsey.

Frank’s first hit with the Dorsey Band backed by the Pied Pipers.
In 1939, “There Are Such Things”

They returned to Los Angeles and signed with Capitol Records, where Paul Weston was now working, and he became the arranger and orchestra leader for most of the Pipers’ recordings. Huddleston left to join the war effort (also about that time, he was divorced from Jo Stafford), and Hal Hopper rejoined the group to replace him. And in 1944 Jo Stafford had a hit on her own, ahead of the Pipers, and after a couple more hits, she left for good to pursue a solo career. June Hutton replaced her, leaving another group, The Stardusters.

The Pipers had twelve charted hit singles on Capitol, including Dream and ending up with My Happiness (biggest hit version by Jon and Sondra Steele, later made popular again by Connie Francis) in 1948. They also continued a relationship with Frank Sinatra, doing a number of tours with him starting in 1945, and becoming a regular on his radio program from 1945 to 1947.

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE by Johnny Mercer & The Pied Pipers: Though Johnny Mercer & The Pied Pipers did a studio version of this song on the Capitol Records label, located in Hollywood, this is a live version recorded in approx. 1944-45.

In 1950, June Hutton left the group, to be replaced by Sue Allen, and later Virginia Marcy. She married Axel Stordahl, the other half of Dorsey’s original arranging team. Just as Jo Stafford (who had married Paul Weston) had her husband’s orchestra accompany her on her solo hits, June Hutton’s solo hits on Capitol in the 1950s featured Stordahl’s orchestra as backing group.

The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001.

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