Leader of the most popular dance bands in the United States during the 1920s, Whiteman’s recordings were immensely successful, and press notices often referred to him as the “King of Jazz.” Using a large ensemble and exploring many styles of music, Whiteman is perhaps best known for his blending of symphonic music and jazz, as typified by his 1924 commissioning and debut of George Gershwin‘s jazz-influenced “Rhapsody In Blue“. Whiteman recorded many jazz and pop standards during his career, including “Wang Wang Blues”, “Mississippi Mud“, “Rhapsody in Blue“, “Wonderful One“, “Hot Lips“, “Mississippi Suite“, and “Grand Canyon Suite“. His popularity faded in the swing music era of the 1930s, and by the 1940s Whiteman was semi-retired from music.
Whiteman’s place in the history of early jazz is somewhat controversial. Detractors suggest that Whiteman’s ornately-orchestrated music was jazz in name only (lacking the genre’s improvisational and emotional depth), and co-opted the innovations of black musicians. Defenders note that Whiteman’s fondness for jazz was genuine (he worked with black musicians as much as was feasible during an era of racial segregation), that his bands included many of the era’s most esteemed white jazz musicians, and argue that Whiteman’s groups handled jazz admirably as part of a larger repertoire. In his autobiography, Duke Ellington declared, “Paul Whiteman was known as the King of Jazz, and no one as yet has come near carrying that title with more certainty and dignity.”
1920 “Whispering” Big hit that year and re-make hit in the early 40’s for Tommy Dorsey also hit the top of the charts.
Whiteman was born in Denver, Colorado. After a start as a classical violinist and violist, he led a jazz-influenced dance band, which became popular locally in San Francisco, California in 1918. In 1920 he moved with his band to New York City where they started making recordings for Victor Records which made the Paul Whiteman Orchestra famous nationally.
1927 “My Blue Heaven”
Whiteman became the most popular band director of the decade. In a time when most dance bands consisted of six to 10 men, Whiteman directed a much larger and more imposing group of up to 35 musicians.
In May 1928 Whiteman signed with Columbia Records, and stayed with that label until September 1931, when he returned to Victor. He would remain signed with Victor until March 1937.
In the 1920s the media referred to Whiteman as “The King of Jazz”. Whiteman emphasized the way he had approached the already well-established style of music, while also organizing its composition and style in his own fashion. While most jazz musicians and fans consider improvisation to be essential to the musical style, Whiteman thought the genre could be improved by orchestrating the best of it, with formal written arrangements. Whiteman’s recordings were popular critically and successful commercially, and his style of jazz music was often the first jazz of any form that many Americans heard during the era.
For more than 30 years Whiteman, referred to as “Pops”, sought and encouraged musicians, vocalists, composers, arrangers, and entertainers who looked promising. In 1924 Whiteman commissioned George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue, which was premiered by Whiteman’s orchestra with George Gershwin at the piano. Another familiar piece in Whiteman’s repertoire was Grand Canyon Suite, by Ferde Grofé.
Whiteman hired many of the best jazz musicians for his band, including Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Steve Brown, Mike Pingitore, Gussie Mueller, Wilbur Hall (billed by Whiteman as “Willie Hall”), Jack Teagarden, and Bunny Berigan. He also encouraged upcoming African American musical talents, and initially planned on hiring black musicians, but Whiteman’s management eventually persuaded him that doing would be career suicide due to racial tension and America’s segregation of that time. However, Whiteman crossed racial lines behind-the-scenes, hiring black arrangers like Fletcher Henderson and engaging in mutually-beneficial efforts with recording sessions and scheduling of tours.
One of my favorite of the band singers, Mildred Bailey, with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra singing Hoagy Carmichael’s, “Georgia” Mildred went on to Red Norvo’s band in the 30’s and 40’s and became one of the most celebrated of the girl singers.
In late 1926 Whiteman signed three candidates for his orchestra: Bing Crosby, Al Rinker, and Harry Barris. Whiteman billed the singing trio as The Rhythm Boys. Crosby’s prominence in the Rhythm Boys helped launch his career as one of the most successful singers of the 20th century. Paul Robeson (1928) and Billie Holiday (1942) also recorded with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
Whiteman had 28 number one records during the 1920s and 32 during his career. At the height of his popularity, eight out of the top ten sheet music sales slots were by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
His recording of José Padilla’s Valencia (Padilla/Boyer/Charles/Grey) topped the charts for 11 weeks, beginning 30 March 1926, becoming the #1 record of 1926.
Whiteman signed singer Mildred Bailey in 1929 to appear on his radio program. She first recorded with the Whiteman Orchestra in 1931.
melody based on Claude Debussy’s “Reverie” This song was also recorded by Larry Clinton’s band and became an instant hit for vocalist Bea Wain.
Jazz musician and leader of the Mound City Blue Blowers Red McKenzie and cabaret singer Ramona Davies (billed as “Ramona and her Grand Piano”) joined the Whiteman group in 1932. The King’s Jesters were also with Paul Whiteman in 1931.
In 1934 Paul Whiteman had his last two #1 hits, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes“, with vocals by Bob Lawrence, which was #1 for six weeks, and “Wagon Wheels”, which was #1 for one week, his final hit recording. From 1920 to 1934 Whiteman had 32 #1 recordings, charting 28 of them by 1929. By contrast, during the same period, the 1920s Jazz Age, Louis Armstrong had none.
In 1942 Whiteman began recording for Capitol Records, cofounded by songwriters Buddy DeSylva and Johnny Mercer and music store owner Glenn Wallichs. Whiteman and His Orchestra’s recordings of “I Found a New Baby” and “The General Jumped At Dawn” was the label’s first single release. (Another notable Capitol record he made is the 1942 “Trav’lin Light” featuring Billie Holiday (billed as “Lady Day”, due to her being under contract with another label).
1920 “The Japanese Sandman”
Whiteman was married four times; to Nellie Stack in 1908; to Miss Jimmy Smith; to Mildred Vanderhoff in 1922. In 1931 Whiteman married motion picture actress Margaret Livingston following his divorce from Vanderhoff that same year. The marriage to Livingston lasted until his death.
Whiteman resided at Walking Horse Farm near the village of Rosemont in Delaware Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey from 1938 to 1959. After selling the farm to agriculturalist Lloyd Wescott, Whiteman moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania for his remaining years.
Whiteman died at the age of 77 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on December 29, 1967.
In 1930 “Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra” starred in the first feature-length movie musical filmed entirely in Technicolor, King of Jazz. The film was technically ahead of its time, with many dazzling camera effects complementing the Whiteman music. Whiteman appeared as himself, and good-naturedly kidded his weight and his dancing skills. A highlight was a concert rendition of Rhapsody in Blue. Unfortunately, by the time King of Jazz was released to theaters, audiences had seen too many “all-singing, all-dancing” musicals, and much of the moviegoing public stayed away. (It also didn’t help that the film was shot as a revue with no story and not particularly imaginative camerawork.) The expensive film didn’t show a profit until 1933, when it was successfully reissued to cash in on the popularity of 42nd Street and its elaborate production numbers.
Whiteman also appeared as himself in the 1945 movie Rhapsody in Blue on the life and career of George Gershwin and also appeared in The Fabulous Dorseys in 1947, a bio-pic starring Jimmy Dorsey and Tommy Dorsey. Whiteman also appeared as the baby in Nertz (1929), the bandleader in Thanks a Million (1935), as himself in Strike Up the Band (1940), and in the Paramount Pictures short The Lambertville Story (1949).
Conducted by Nat Shilkret and w George Gershwin at the piano. New York, April 21, 1927.
This is the first electrical recording of “Rhapsody In Blue”.
During the 1930s Whiteman had several radio shows, including Kraft Music Hall and Paul Whiteman’s Musical Varieties, which featured the talents of Bing Crosby, Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden, Johnny Mercer, Ramona, Durelle Alexander and others.
In the 1940s and 1950s, after he had disbanded his orchestra, Whiteman worked as a music director for the ABC Radio Network. He also hosted Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club from Philadelphia on ABC-TV from 1949–1954 (with announcer Dick Clark), and continued to appear as guest conductor for many concerts. His manner on stage was disarming; he signed off each program with something casual like, “Well, that just about slaps the cap on the old milk bottle for tonight.”
Whiteman composed the standard “Wonderful One” in 1922 with Ferde Grofé and Dorothy Terris (also known as Theodora Morse), based on a theme by film director Marshall Neilan. The songwriting credit is assigned as music composed by Paul Whiteman, Ferde Grofe, and Marshall Neilan, with lyrics by Dorothy Terriss. The single reached #3 on Billboard in May 1923, staying on the charts for 5 weeks. “(My) Wonderful One” was recorded by Gertrude Moody, Edward Miller, Martha Pryor, Mel Torme, Doris Day, Woody Herman, Helen Moretti, John McCormack; it was released as Victor 961. Jan Garber and His Orchestra, and Ira Sullivan with Tony Castellano also recorded the song. Henry Burr recorded it in 1924 and Glenn Miller and his Orchestra in 1940. On the sheet music published in 1922 by Leo Feist it is described as a “Waltz Song” and “Paul Whiteman’s Sensational Waltz Hit” and is dedicated “To Julie”. “Wonderful One” appeared in the following movies: The Chump Champ (1950), Little ‘Tinker (1948), Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), Sufferin’ Cats (1943), Design for Scandal (1941), Strike Up the Band (1940), and Westward Passage (1932).
Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra. – “Charleston” (unpublished version), 1925
In 1924 Whiteman composed “When the One You Love Loves You” with Abel Baer and lyricist Cliff Friend. Whiteman recorded the song on 24 December 1924 in New York with Franklyn Baur on vocals and released it as Victor 19553-B backed with “I’ll See You in My Dreams”. The single reached #7 on the Billboard national pop singles charts in April 1925, staying on the charts for 3 weeks. The song is described as “A Sentimental Waltz Ballad” on the 1934 sheet music. Singer and composer Morton Downey, Sr., the father of the talkshow host, recorded the song in 1925 and released it as Brunswick 2887. Eva Shirley sang the song in Ed Wynn‘s Grab Bag, a Broadway musical which opened in 1924 at the Globe. Leo Feist published the sheet music for the Shirley version in 1924 featuring Eva Shirley on the cover.
Paul Whiteman composed “Flamin’ Mamie” in 1925 with Fred Rose, one of the top hits of 1925, which was recorded by the Harry Reser Band, Merritt Brunies and the Friars Inn Orchestra, Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, the Six Black Diamonds in 1926 on Banner, the Toll House Jazz Band, Aileen Stanley in 1925 with Billy “Uke” Carpenter on the ukulele, Hank Penny in 1938, Turk Murphy, the Frisco Syncopators, the Firehouse Five Plus Two, Bob Schulz and His Frisco Jazz Band, and the Coon-Sanders Nighthawk Orchestra led by Carleton Coon and Joe Sanders with Joe Sanders on vocals. The lyrics describe Mamie as a Roaring Twenties vamp: “Flamin’ Mamie, a sure-fire vamp/When it comes to lovin’/She’s a human oven/Come on you futuristic papas/She’s the hottest thing he’s seen since the Chicago fire.”
Paul Whiteman also composed “Charlestonette” in 1925 with Fred Rose which was published by Leo Feist. The song was released as Victor 19785 backed with “Ida-I Do” in 1925. Ben Selvin’s Dance Orchestra and Bennie Krueger and His Orchestra also recorded the song in 1925.
“You Took Advantage of Me”
In Louis Armstrong & Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz (2004), Joshua Berrett wrote that “Whiteman Stomp” was credited to Fats Waller, Alphonso Trent, and Paul Whiteman. Lyricist Jo Trent is the co-author. The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra first recorded “Whiteman Stomp” on 11 May 1927 and released it as Columbia 1059-D. The Fletcher Henderson recording lists the songwriters as “Fats Waller/Jo Trent/Paul Whiteman”. Paul Whiteman recorded the song on 11 August 1927 and released it as Victor 21119.
“California Here I Come”
“Then and Now”, recorded on December 7, 1954 and released in 1955 on Coral, was composed by Paul Whiteman with Dick Jacobs and Bob Merrill. The song was released as a 45 inch single in 1955 as Coral 61336 backed with “Mississippi Mud” by Paul Whiteman and His New Ambassador Orchestra with the New Rhythm Boys.
Whiteman also co-wrote the popular song “My Fantasy” with Leo Edwards and Jack Meskill, which is a musical adaptation of the Polovetsian Dances theme from the opera Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin. The Paul Whiteman Orchestra recorded “My Fantasy” in 1939.
1926 “The Birth of the Blues”
Quick Bio Facts:
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The King of Jazz
Military service: US Navy (WWI)
Father: Wilburforce Whiteman
Wife: Nellie Stack (m. 1908)
Wife: Miss Jimmy Smith (div. 1922)
Wife: Mildred Vanderhoff (m. 1922, div. 1931)
Wife: Margaret Livingston (actress, m. 1931, until his death)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Fabulous Dorseys (21-Feb-1947) Himself
Rhapsody in Blue (22-Sep-1945) Himself
Atlantic City (29-Jul-1944) Himself
Strike Up the Band (27-Sep-1940)
The King of Jazz (20-Apr-1930) Himself
Sources: Wikipedia, nndb.com, youtube
- Whispering, 1920, #1 for 11 weeks, the no.2 hit of 1920, 1998 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee
- The Japanese Sandman, 1920, #1 for 2 weeks
- Wang Wang Blues, 1921, #1 for 6 weeks, on the soundtrack to the 1996 Academy Award–winning movie The English Patient
- My Mammy, 1921, #1 for 5 weeks
- Cherie, 1921, #1 for 6 weeks
- Say It With Music, 1921, #1 for 5 weeks
- Grieving For You-Feather Your Nest, #26 hit of 1921
- Play that “Song of India” Again, 1921, #1 for 5 weeks, music adapted by Paul Whiteman from the Chanson Indoue theme by Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov from the opera Sadko (1898) with lyrics by Leo Wood and Irving Bibo
- Bright Eyes, the #13 hit of 1921
- Hot Lips (He’s Got Hot Lips When He Plays Jazz), 1922, #1 for 6 weeks, featured in the Oprah Winfrey movie The Color Purple (1985), directed by Steven Spielberg
- Do It Again, 1922, #1 for 2 weeks
- Three O’Clock in the Morning, 1922, #1 for 8 weeks
- Stumbling, 1922, #1 for 6 weeks
- Wonderful One, 1922, music composed by Paul Whiteman and Ferde Grofe, with lyrics by Theodora Morse, #3 on Billboard charts in 1923
- I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise, 1923, #1 for 1 week
- Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, 1923, #1 for 7 weeks
- Bambalina, 1923, #1 for 1 week
- Nuthin’ But, 1923, co-written by Ferde Grofe and Henry Busse
- Linger Awhile, 1924, #1 for 4 weeks
- What’ll I Do, 1924, #1 for 5 weeks
- Somebody Loves Me, 1924, #1 for 5 weeks
- Rhapsody in Blue, 1924, arranged by Ferde Grofe, with George Gershwin on piano
- When the One You Love Loves You, 1924, composed by Paul Whiteman
- All Alone, 1925, #1 for 3 weeks
- Charlestonette, 1925, composed by Paul Whiteman with Fred Rose
- Birth of the Blues, 1926, #1 for 4 weeks
- Valencia, no.1 for 11 weeks in 1926, the #1 record of 1926
- My Blue Heaven, 1927, #1 for 1 week
- Three Shades of Blue: Indigo/Alice Blue/Heliotrope, 1927, composed and arranged by Ferde Grofe
- In a Little Spanish Town, 1927, #1 for 8 weeks
- I’m Coming, Virginia
- Whiteman Stomp, 1927
- Washboard Blues, 1927, with Hoagy Carmichael on vocals and piano
- Rhapsody in Blue, 1927, “electrical” version, Grammy Hall of Fame inductee
- Chiquita, #36 hit of 1928
- From Monday On, 1928, with Bing Crosby, the Rhythm Boys, and Jack Fulton on vocals and Bix Beiderbecke on cornet, #14 on Billboard
- Mississippi Mud, 1928, with Bing Crosby and Bix Beiderbecke, #6 on Billboard
- Metropolis: A Blue Fantasy, 1928, composed by Ferde Grofe, with Bix Beiderbecke on cornet
- Ol’ Man River, 1928, first, fast version, with Bing Crosby on vocals, #1 for 1 week. This recording was Bing Crosby’s first #1 record as a vocalist. Crosby would have 41 such hits during his career.
- Ol’ Man River, 1928, second, slow version, with Paul Robeson on vocals, Grammy Hall of Fame inductee
- Concerto in F
- Among My Souvenirs, 1928, #1 for 4 weeks
- Ramona, 1928, with Bix Beiderbecke, #1 for 3 weeks
- Together, 1928, with Jack Fulton on vocals, #1 for 2 weeks. Dinah Shore recorded this song in 1944, which became a hit. Connie Francis recorded the song in 1961; it reached #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The song was also recorded by Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards (1928), Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest (1944), and Tony Pasror and His Orchestra on a V-Disc.
- My Angel, 1928, with Bix Beiderbecke, #1 for 6 weeks
- Great Day, 1929, #1 for 2 weeks
- Body and Soul, 1930, #1 for 6 weeks
- New Tiger Rag, 1930, #10 on Billboard
- When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, 1931, vocal by Mildred Bailey and the King’s Jesters
- Grand Canyon Suite, 1932
- Mississippi Suite
- Rise ‘N’ Shine, 1932, featuring Ramona Davies and her Grand Piano
- All of Me, 1932, #1 for 3 weeks
- Willow Weep for Me, 1933, #2 chart hit
- It’s Only a Paper Moon, 1933, with Peggy Healy on vocals. The Whiteman recording, Victor 24400, was used in the 1973 movie Paper Moon
- Sun Spots, 1934, with Frankie Trumbauer
- You’re the Top, #21 hit of 1934
- Fare-Thee-Well to Harlem, 1934, with vocals by Johnny Mercer and Jack Teagarden
- Wagon Wheels, 1934
- My Fantasy, 1939, Paul Whiteman co-wrote the song “My Fantasy”, an adaptation by Paul Whiteman of the Polovetsian Dances theme from the opera Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin, credited to “Paul Whiteman/Leo Edwards/Jack Meskill”. Artie Shaw recorded “My Fantasy” in 1940.
- Trav’lin’ Light, 1942, with Billie Holiday on vocals
- Then and Now, 1955
- The Night is Young (And You’re So Beautiful), 1956, with Tommy Dorsey
- It’s the Dreamer in Me, 1956, with Jimmy Dorsey
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