Connie Boswell

Constance Foore “Connee” Boswell (December 3, 1907, Kansas City, Missouri – October 11, 1976, New York) was an American female vocalist born in Kansas City but raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. With her sisters, Martha and Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, she performed in the 1930s as The Boswell Sisters and became a highly influential singing group during this period via recordings and radio. Connee herself is widely considered one of the greatest jazz female vocalists and was a major influence on Ella Fitzgerald who said, “My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it….I tried so hard to sound just like her.”[1]

Connie Boswell and the Victor Young Orchestra, “Blue Moon” 1935

In 1936, Connee’s sisters retired and Connee continued on as a solo artist (having also recorded solos during her years with the group).

The Boswells came to be well known locally while still in their early teens, making appearances in New Orleans theaters and radio. They made their first recordings for Victor Records in 1925, which included “Cryin’ Blues” where Connee is featured singing in the style of her early influence, the African American singer Mamie Smith. The Boswell Sisters became stage professionals that year when they were tapped to fill in for an act at New Orleans’ Orpheum Theatre. They received an invitation to come to Chicago and perform in 1928 and honed their act on the Western Vaudeville Circuit. When their tour ended they traveled to San Francisco. The hotel that had been recommended had a less than savory reputation, and the man at the desk suggested that these three young ladies might be better off in another hotel. That man, Harry Leedy, would later become their manager on a handshake and become a permanent part of Connee’s life.

1931 -“I’m All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart”

The Boswell Sisters travelled to Los Angeles where they performed on local radio and “side-miked” for the soundies, including the 1930 production “Under Montana Skies.” They did not attain national attention, however, until they moved to New York City in 1930 and started making national radio broadcasts. After a few recordings with Okeh Records, they made numerous recordings for Brunswick Records from 1931-1935. In 1935, the sisters had a #1 hit with “The Object of My Affection“, the biggest of twenty top 20 records they would enjoy.

“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”

In 1936, the group signed to Decca Records and after just three releases called it quits (the last recording was February 12, 1936). Connee Boswell continued to have a successful solo career as a singer for Decca.

All through her career with The Boswell Sisters, and well into the 1940s, her name was spelled “Connie”. She later changed the spelling to Connee, reputedly because it made it easier to sign autographs.

Connee Boswell was also an arranger (the Boswell Sisters harmony arrangements are hers) and a composer.

Connee sang from a wheelchair – or seated position – during her entire career, due to either a childhood bout with polio or a childhood accident (sources differ). The general public was not aware of her condition although Boswell herself did not keep this secret. During World War II, she tried to get involved with the U.S.O. tours but was not given permission to travel overseas. The Army thought it might not be a morale-booster to have a singer who used a wheelchair perform for the troops.

“I’ll Get By”

Connee Boswell was a favorite duet partner of Bing Crosby and they frequently sang together on radio as well as recording several hit records as a duo in the 1930s and 1940’s. Boswell, Crosby, and Eddie Cantor recorded a version of Alexander’s Ragtime Band that was a #1 hit in 1938.In 1939, Crosby and Boswell had three hit duet records that each climbed into the top 12 on Billboard; “An Apple For The Teacher” climbed all the way to #2.

“Its The Talk Of The Town”

Boswell also had several dozen solo hits, including “Moonlight Moon” in 1942. Boswell’s career slackened in the 1950s but she still recorded occasionally and would be featured on a number of television broadcasts including a regular stint on the 1959 series “Pete Kelly’s Blues”.

Connee Boswell died from stomach cancer at age 68 in 1976, in New York. A number of her recordings are now available on CD, both as a soloist and part of the Boswell Sisters.

“Stardust”

Sources: Wikiepedia, youtube, imdb.com

The Boswell Sisters

The Boswell Sisters were a close harmony singing group, consisting of sisters Martha Boswell (June 9, 1905 – July 2, 1958), Connee Boswell (original name Connie) (December 3, 1907 – October 11, 1976), and Helvetia “Vet” Boswell (May 20, 1911 – November 12, 1988), noted for intricate harmonies and rhythmic experimentation. They attained national prominence in the USA in the 1930s.

“Cheek To Cheek”

They were raised by a middle-class family on Camp Street in uptown New Orleans, Louisiana. Martha and Connie were born in Kansas City, Missouri. Helvetia was born in Birmingham, Alabama. (Connee’s name was originally spelled Connie until she changed it in the 1940s.)

“Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter”

They came to be well known in New Orleans while still in their early teens, making appearances in local theaters and radio. They made their first record for Victor Records in 1925. However, the Boswell Sisters did not attain national attention until they moved to New York City in 1930 and started making national radio broadcasts. After a few recordings with Okeh Records in 1930, they made numerous recordings for Brunswick Records from 1931-1935. These Brunswick records are widely regarded as milestone recordings of vocal jazz. Connee’s ingenious reworkings of the melodies and rhythms of popular songs, together with Glenn Miller’s hot arrangements, and first rate New York jazz musicians (including The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Fulton McGrath, Joe Venuti, Arthur Schutt, Eddie Lang, Joe Tarto, Manny Klein, Dick McDonough, and Carl Kress), made these recordings unlike any others. Melodies were rearranged and slowed down, major keys were changed to minor keys (sometimes in mid-song) and rhythmic changes were par for the course. They were among the very few performers who were allowed to make changes to current popular tunes as during this era, music publishers and record companies pressured performers not to alter current popular song arrangements. Connee also recorded a series of more conventional solo records for Brunswick during the same period.

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”

The name of their 1934 song “Rock and Roll” is an early use of the term. It is not one of their hotter numbers; it refers to “the rolling rocking rhythm of the sea”.

In 1936, the group signed to Decca and after just 3 records, broke up (the last recording was February 12, 1936).

Connie Boswell continued to have a successful solo career as a singer for Decca. She later changed the spelling of her name from Connie to Connee in the 1940’s, reputedly because it made it easier to sign autographs. (It’s interesting to note that Connee sang from a wheelchair – or seated position – during her entire career, due to an accident she suffered as a young child. Amazingly, when she tried to get involved with the overseas U.S.O tours. during World War II, she was not given permission to travel overseas due to her disability.)

“Sleepy Time Down South”

The Boswell Sisters chalked up 20 hits during the 1930s including the number one record “The Object of My Affection” in 1935.

During the early 1930’s the Boswell Sisters, Three X Sisters, and Pickens Sisters were the talk of early radio female harmonizing. The Andrews Sisters started out as Boswell Sisters imitators. Young Ella Fitzgerald loved the Boswell Sisters and in particular idolized Connee, after whose singing style she patterned her own.

Current groups The Pfister Sisters, Stolen Sweets, and Boswellmania, or the Italian trio Sorelle Marinetti continue to imitate the sisters’ recordings. The Ditty Bops have covered Boswell sisters songs in concert.

In 2001, The Boswell Sisters, a major musical based on their lives, was produced at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California. The play starred Michelle Duffy, Elizabeth Ward Land, and Amy Pietz and was produced by the same team that produced Forever Plaid. The show was a hit with audiences and a critical success, but failed to be picked up for a much hoped-for Broadway run.

The Boswell Sisters were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. At a ceremony covered by the Pfister Sisters, the Boswells were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Solo Hit recordings For Connie Boswell

Year Single Chart positions
US
1932 “Say It Isn’t So” 10
1934 “Isn’t It a Shame” 19
1935 “Moon Over Miami” 19
1936 “On the Beach At Bali Bali” 3
1937 “Whispers In the Dark” 9
“Bob White (Whatcha Gonna Swing Tonight?)”(with Bing Crosby) 1
“Basin Street Blues”(with Bing Crosby) 12
1938 “Fare Thee, Honey, Fare Thee Well” 11
“I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” 5
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”(with Bing Crosby) 1
“Simple and Sweet” 12
1939 “An Apple For Teacher”(with Bing Crosby) 2
“Start the Day Right”(with Bing Crosby) 12
“At Least You Could Say Hello” 14
1940 “Between 18th & 19th On Chestnut Street”(with Bing Crosby) 12
“On the Isle of May” 3
“Let’s Be Buddies” 25
1941 “Sand In My Shoes” 24
“I’ll Keep On Loving You” 22
1942 “South Wind” 21
“Moonlight Mood” 22
“Why Don’t You Fall In Love With Me” 21
1946 “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” 9
“Who Told You That Lie?” 22
“Ole Buttermilk Sky” 14
1948 “You Were Meant For Me” 19
1952 “My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue” 25
1953 “Singin’ the Blues” 27
“Main Street On Saturday Night” 29
“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” 29
1954 “The Philadelphia Waltz” 30
“If I Give My Heart To You” 10
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Connie Haines

Yvonne Marie Antoinette JaMais (20 January 1921 – 22 September 2008) was an American singer who performed under the stage name Connie Haines. Her 200 recordings were frequently up-tempo big band songs with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and Frank Sinatra.

“Will You Still Be Mine”

She began performing at age 4, and by age 9 had a regular radio show performing as Baby Yvonne Marie, the Little Princess of the Air.

After a number of regional successes and winning the Major Bowes contest, she was hired by Harry James, who asked her to change her name. She later joined Tommy Dorsey, and Haines credited Dorsey with developing her style further. Haines performed in a number of films, including Duchess of Idaho. She later did a television show with Frankie Laine.

“What Is This Thing Called Love?”

She died in Clearwater Beach, Florida of myasthenia gravis.[1]

Popular dark-haired “Big Band” singer Connie Haines may have been petite in size (less than 5′ tall) but she possessed a sturdy set of pipes to compensate and was adored by her large fan base during the swinging war years. Performing alongside an equally young Frank Sinatra in both the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands way back when, she was known for her cool, doll-like vocals, quivery vibrato, and zesty, rhythmic stylings — 25 of her more than 200 recordings, including “Let’s Get Away From It All” and “Friendship,” sold more than 50,000 copies. Other classic singles from Connie ranged from the torchy stylings of “Stormy Weather” and “My Man” to the cooing innocence of “Snooty Little Cutie” and “Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy” to the hep and swinging “Let’s Choo Choo Choo to Idaho”.

She was born Yvonne Marie Antoinette JaMais on January 20, 1921 in Savannah George, but changed her name to the peppier-sounding Connie Haines to take up less space on the theater marquee at the time she joined Harry James‘ band. She grew up in Jacksonville, Florida (from age 5) and started to perform at the encouragement of her mother who was a music and dance teacher. Winning a dance contest, she went on to perform for various Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and by age 9 was known on radio as “Baby Yvonne Marie, the Little Princess of the Air” while being backed by her own 30-piece orchestra. Around that time she also fought a near-fatal bout with rheumatic fever.

“Snootie Little Cutie” with Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers

Winning more talent contests along the way she evolved into a teen sensation and performed on Fred Allen‘s radio show. At age 18 she hooked up with Harry James before joining Tommy Dorsey‘s outfit in 1940. During that period she and Sinatra duoed famously on such songs as “Oh, Look at Me Now” and “You Might Have Belonged to Another”. By 1942 Connie had landed a regular singing gig with the Abbott and Costello radio show. She was such a hit that her 13-week contract was extended to 4 years. She found herself in demand on all the popular radio shows of the day — Kay Kyser, Hoagy Carmichael and Skitch Henderson, to name but a few.

Recorded shortly be Connie Died. She was still a wonderful performer!!

It was war time and Connie, along with many of the other popular vocalists of her day, treated film audiences to specialty numbers in a number of fun, frivolous musicals that were primarily designed as escapist fare or patriotic morale-boosters. In both Moon Over Las Vegas (1944) and Twilight on the Prairie (1944), she sang songs alongside prolific singer/songwriter (and later popular adult “Mousketeer”) Jimmie Dodd. In the latter, a musical western, she was even given a co-starring role. In A Wave, a WAC and a Marine (1944) she sang “Time Will Tell” and “Gee, I Love My G.I. Joe” and in the Van Johnson/Esther Williams starrer Duchess of Idaho (1950), in which she again had an acting role, she contributed a fine version of “Of All Things”.

“Of All Things”

Connie’s last film appearance was in the romantic musical short Birth of a Band (1954) in which she warbled the classic standards “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “I’ve Got the World on a String”. A highly religious woman, she teamed with singer Beryl Davis and Hollywood icons Jane Russell and Rhonda Fleming during the 1950s in a gospel quartet. They scored a hit with the 1954 song “Do Lord”.

“It Don’t Mean A Thing”

Connie continued performing for decades in nightclubs, cabarets and revivals despite a number of life-threatening illnesses/injuries which included a bout with cancer (for which she had a double mastectomy in 1984) and a 2002 car accident that left her with two broken vertebrae in her neck. She finally retired in 2006 at age 85. During her career she performed for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

“More Thank You Know”


The “Nightingale from Savannah” was married and divorced twice. Her first was to WWII flying ace Robert DeHaven in 1945. That marriage produced a son (Robert Jr.) and a daughter (Kimberly). Her subsequent marriage to popular bandleader Del Courtney (1910-2006) lasted from 1966 to 1972. Connie died in Clearwater, Florida, at age 87 of myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neruomuscular disease. She was survived by her children and the one woman who influenced her the most — her mother and manager, Mildred, who was 109 at the time of Connie’s death on September 22, 2008.

Cole Porter’s, “DeLovely”

Sources: imdb.com, youtube.com

Martha Raye

Martha Raye (August 27, 1916 – October 19, 1994) was an American comic actress and standards singer who performed in movies, and later on television.

“Waikiki Wedding”

Raye’s life as a singer and comedy performer began very early in her childhood. She was born at St. James Hospital, in Butte, Montana as Margy Reed,[1] where her Irish immigrant parents, Peter F. Reed and Maybelle Hooper, were performing at a local vaudeville theatre as “Reed and Hooper”.[2] Two days after Martha was born, her mother was already back on stage, and Martha first appeared in their act when she was three years old. She performed with her brother, Bud, and soon the two children became such a highlight that the act was renamed “Margie and Bud.” Some show business insiders speculated that the Judy Garland song from A Star Is Born, “I was born in a trunk in the Princess Theater in Pocatello, Idaho” was inspired by Raye’s beginnings.

Raye continued performing from that point on and even attended the Professional Children’s School in New York City, but she received so little formal schooling, getting only as far as the fifth grade, that she often had to have scripts and other written documents read to her by others.

Judy Garland and Martha Raye

Frances Faye vs Martha Raye

In the early 1930s, Raye was a band vocalist with the Paul Ash and Boris Morros orchestras. She made her first film appearance in 1934 in a band short titled A Nite in the Nite Club. In 1936, she was signed for comic roles by Paramount Pictures, and made her first picture for Paramount. Her first feature film was Rhythm on the Range with crooner Bing Crosby. Over the next 26 years, she would eventually appear with many of the leading comics of her day, including Joe E. Brown, Bob Hope, W. C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin, and Jimmy Durante. She joined the USO soon after the US entered World War II.

Martha Raye was known for the size of her mouth, which appeared large in proportion to the rest of her face, thus earning her the nickname The Big Mouth. She later referred to this in a series of commercials for Polident denture cleaner in the 1980s: “So take it from The Big Mouth: new Polident Green gets tough stains clean!” Her mouth would come to relegate her motion picture work to largely supporting comic parts, and was often made up in such a way that it appeared even larger than it already was. In the Warner Brothers cartoon The Woods are Full of Cuckoos, she is caricatured as a jazzy scat-singing donkey named Moutha Bray.

Tribute To Martha

Betty Grable, Carol Burnett and Martha Raye 1968

During World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, she travelled extensively to entertain the American troops, even though she had a lifelong fear of flying.

In October 1966, she went to Soc Trang, Vietnam, to entertain the troops at the base which was the home base of the 121st Aviation company, the Soc Trang Tigers, the gunship platoon, The Vikings and the 336th Aviation company. Shortly after her arrival, both units were called out on a mission to extract supposed POWs from an area nearby. Raye decided to hold her troupe of entertainers there until the mission was completed so that all of the servicemen could watch her show.

During that time, a serviceman flying a “Huey Slick” helicopter carrying troops recalls that his ship received combat damage to the extent that he had to return to base at Soc Trang:

I was the pilot of that “slick” which had received major damage to the tail-rotor drive shaft from a lucky enemy rifle shot. The maintenance team at the staging area inspected and determined that a one-time flight back to base camp would be okay but grounded the aircraft after that. Upon arriving back at Soc Trang, I informed Martha (she came right up to us and asked how things were going) that we had a gunship down in the combat area and additional efforts were being made to extract the crew. I don’t recall if we had received word of the death of the pilot at that time. Martha stated that she and her troupe would remain until everyone returned from the mission. As there were no replacements, the servicemen could not return to the mission. While the servicemen waited, Raye played poker with them and helped to keep everyone’s spirits up. I enjoyed playing cards with Martha but regretted it somewhat. It appears that she had plenty of practice playing poker with GIs during her USO service in multiple wars. But I still love her for who she was and what she did. When the mission was completed, which had resulted in the loss of a helicopter, gunship and a Viking pilot, there was also an officer, the Major who was in command of the Vikings who had been wounded when the ship went down. He was flying pilot position but was not in control of the ship when the command pilot, a Warrant Officer, was shot. When he and the two remaining crewmen were returned to Soc Trang, Raye volunteered to assist the doctor in treating the wounded flyer. When all had been completed, Raye waited until everybody was available and then put on her show. Everyone involved appreciated her as an outstanding trouper and a caring person. During the Vietnam War, she was made an honorary Green Beret because she visited United States Army Special Forces in Vietnam without fanfare, and she helped out when things got bad in Special Forces A-Camps. As a result, she came to be known affectionately by the Green Berets as “Colonel Maggie.”[3]

Hosting the Hollywood Palace in 1966. Rodgers & Hart’s “Little Girl Blue”

Martha Raye on What’s My Line?

On November 2, 1993, Martha Raye was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Bill Clinton, for her service to her country.Raye was an early television star when that medium was very young; for a while she had her own program, The Martha Raye Show (1954 – 1956) in which she was the lead and her awkward boyfriend was portrayed by retired middleweight boxer Rocky Graziano. The writer and producer was future The Phil Silvers Show creator Nat Hiken. Other stars who appeared on her show included Zsa Zsa Gabor, Cesar Romero and Broadway dancer Wayne Lamb. She also appeared on other TV shows in the 1950s, such as “What’s My Line?”. Following the demise of her TV variety show, the breakup of her fifth marriage, and a series of other personal and health problems, she attempted suicide with sleeping pills on August 14, 1956. Well wishers gave her a St. Christopher‘s medal, a St. Genesius medal and a Star of David. After her recovery, she wore these faithfully, although she was neither Catholic nor Jewish. At the end of her TV programs, she would also thank the nuns at The Sisters of St. Francis Hospital in Miami, Florida where she recovered. She would always say, “Goodnight, Sisters” as a sign of appreciation and gratitude. Later, Raye served as the television spokesperson for Polident denture cleanser, principally during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1970, she portrayed Boss Witch, the “Queen of all Witch-dom” in the feature film Pufnstuf for Sid and Marty Krofft. This led to her being cast as villainess Benita Bizarre in The Bugaloos (1970), which the Kroffts produced the same year. She often appeared as a guest on other programs, particularly ones that often had older performers as guest stars, such as ABC‘s The Love Boat and on variety programs, including the short-lived The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, also on ABC. She also appeared for two years as Mel Sharples’ mother, Carrie, on the CBS sitcom Alice. She made guest appearances or did cameo roles in such series as Murder, She Wrote on CBS and The Andy Williams Show and McMillan & Wife, both on NBC.

Famous Polident Commercial

From “Pippin”

Raye’s personal life was complex and emotionally tumultuous. She was married seven times.

She was married to Hamilton “Buddy” Westmore from May 30, 1937 until September 1937, filing for divorce on the basis of extreme cruelty; to conductor and composer, David Rose from October 8, 1938 to May 19, 1941; to Neal Lang from May 25, 1941 to February 3, 1944; to Nick Condos from February 22, 1944 to June 17, 1953 which resulted in the birth of her only child Melodye Raye Condos on July 26, 1944; to Edward T. Begley from April 21, 1954 to October 6, 1956; to Robert O’Shea from November 7, 1956 to December 1, 1960; and to Mark Harris from September 25, 1991 until her death in 1994. Raye’s marriage to Harris in a Las Vegas ceremony made headlines in 1991, partly because Raye was 75 and Harris was 42, and partly because the two had known each other for less than a month. Harris was also bisexual. They remained married until her death in 1994. At that time, Harris received the bulk of Martha Raye’s estate, including her home in Bel Air, California. Raye’s will left nothing to her only daughter from a previous marriage, Melodye Condos, from whom Raye was estranged at the time of her death. On April 23, 2008, Harris was interviewed on The Howard Stern Show and revealed that he had spent all but $100,000 of the money left to him in Martha’s Will, from an estimated $3 million. He also revealed that he had suffered two heart attacks and was living in New York with one of his adult daughters. Before her death, with Harris’s support, Raye sued Bette Midler and the producers of the movie For The Boys in the early 1990s, claiming that the film was based on Martha’s extensive experience as a much-loved entertainer of US troops during three wars. She lost the case when the judge after hearing evidence on both sides decided that Raye did not have a case.[4]

Raye’s final years were spent dealing with ongoing health problems. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and had lost both legs in 1993 due to circulatory problems. She died of pneumonia on October 19, 1994, after a long history of cardiovascular disease. Raye was 78 years of age, and residing in Los Angeles at the time of her death.

In appreciation of her work with the USO during World War II and subsequent wars, special consideration was given to bury her in Arlington National Cemetery upon her death, however, at her request, she was ultimately buried with full military honors in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Martha is the only woman buried in the SF (Special Forces) cemetery at Ft. Bragg. Martha Raye was a full Colonel in the US Army Reserve and a Nurse, with a surgical specialty.

Raye has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for motion pictures, located at 6251 Hollywood Blvd., and for television, located at 6547 Hollywood Blvd.

“Silent Night”

The Martha Raye Show

Sources: Wikipedia.com, youtube.com, nndb.com, imdb.com

Quick Bio Facts:

Martha Raye

Martha RayeAKA Margaret Teresa Yvonne Reed

Born: 27-Aug1916
Birthplace: Butte, MT
Died: 19-Oct1994
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA [1]
Cause of death: Pneumonia
Remains: Buried, Fort Bragg Main Post Cemetery, Fort Bragg, NC

Gender: Female
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor

Nationality: United States

Friars Club honorary member
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6547 Hollywood Blvd. (television)
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6251 Hollywood Blvd. (motion pictures)
Presidential Medal of Freedom 2-Nov-1993 by Bill Clinton
Risk Factors: Alzheimer’s, Alcoholism, Amputee

TELEVISION
McMillan and Wife Agatha
Alice Carrie Sharples

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Alice in Wonderland (9-Dec-1985)
Pippin: His Life and Times (1981)
The Concorde: Airport ’79 (17-Aug-1979)
Pufnstuf (May-1970)
Billy Rose’s Jumbo (6-Dec-1962)
Monsieur Verdoux (11-Apr-1947)
Pin-Up Girl (25-Apr-1944)
Four Jills in a Jeep (17-Mar-1944) Herself
Hellzapoppin (26-Dec-1941)
Keep ‘Em Flying (19-Nov-1941)
Navy Blues (13-Sep-1941)
College Swing (29-Apr-1938)
The Big Broadcast of 1938 (11-Feb-1938)
Artists & Models (4-Aug-1937)
Waikiki Wedding (23-Mar-1937)

Film

Television

Martha Tilton

Martha Tilton (November 14, 1915, Corpus Christi, Texas -December 8, 2006, Brentwood, California) was an American popular singer, best-known for her 1939 recording of “And the Angels Sing” with Benny Goodman. She was sometimes introduced as The Liltin’ Miss Tilton.

“I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart”

“Bob White”

Tilton and her family lived in Texas and Kansas, relocating to Los Angeles when she was seven years old. While attending Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, she was singing on a small radio station when she was heard by an agent who signed her and began booking her with larger stations. She then dropped out of school in the 11th grade to join Hal Grayson’s band.

After singing with the quartet, Three Hits and a Miss, she joined the Myer Alexander chorus on Benny Goodman’s radio show, Camel Caravan. Goodman hired Tilton as a vocalist with his band in August 1937. She was with Goodman in January 1938, when the band performed the first jazz performance at Carnegie Hall. She continued to appear as Goodman’s star vocalist through the end of 1939.

1939 “And The Angels Sing”

“Paper Moon”

Tilton had a major success from 1942 to 1949 as one of the first artists to record for Capitol Records. Her first recording for Capitol was “Moon Dreams”, Capitol 138, with Orchestra and The Mellowaires, composed by Johnny Mercer and Glenn Miller pianist Chummy MacGregor in 1942. “Moon Dreams” would be recorded by Glenn Miller in 1944 and by Miles Davis in 1950. Among her biggest hits as a solo artist were “I’ll Walk Alone,” a wartime ballad which rose to #4 on the charts in 1944; “I Should Care” and “A Stranger in Town,” which both peaked at #10 in 1945; and three in 1947: “How Are Things in Glocca Morra” from Finian’s Rainbow, which climbed to #8; “That’s My Desire“, which hit #10; and “I Wonder, I Wonder, I Wonder”, which reached #9.

1941 Lock Lomond”

“If I Had You”

After she left Capitol, Tilton recorded for other labels, including Coral and Tops. Among her later albums was We Sing the Old Songs (1957, Tops), a mix of older songs and recent standards with baritone Curt Massey, who later became well-known as the composer (with Paul Henning) and singer of the theme song for the CBS-TV series Petticoat Junction.

Massey and Tilton starred in Alka-Seltzer Time, a 15-minute radio series broadcast weekdays on both CBS and Mutual. Sponsored by Alka-Seltzer, this show began in 1949 as Curt Massey Time (sometimes advertised as Curt Massey Time with Martha Tilton) with a title change to highlight the sponsor’s product by 1952.

By 1953, the series was heard simultaneously on Mutual (at noon) and later that same day on CBS (at 5:45pm). Ads described the show as “informal song sessions” by vocalists Massey and Tilton, who was often billed as “The liltin’ Martha Tilton.” The two Texas-born singers performed with Country Washburne and His Orchestra, featuring Charles LaVere on piano. The series ended November 6, 1953.

“A Little Jive Is Good For You” 1941

“These Foolish Things”

However, Massey and Tilton continued to appear together during the late 1950s on such shows as Guest Star and Stars for Defense. They also teamed to record an album, We Sing the Old Songs (1957). Tilton and Massey also co-hosted a daily half-hour TV show in Los Angeles for approximately seven years.

Her movies include Sunny (1941), Swing Hostess (1944), Crime, Inc. (1945), and The Benny Goodman Story (1956). Her last film appearance was as the band vocalist in the TV movie Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975). Tilton’s singing voice was used for other actresses including Barbara Stanwyck, Martha O’Driscoll, and Anne Gwynne. [2] She also appeared in several Soundies musical films of the 1940s.

Her sister, Liz Tilton, also seen in Soundies, sang with Ken Baker (mid-1930s), Buddy Rogers, Bob Crosby (1941), and Jan Garber (1942).

Sources: Wikipedia, Youtube, imdb.com

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith (April 15, 1894 – September 26, 1937) was an American blues singer.

Sometimes referred to as “The Empress of the Blues,” Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s.[1] She is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on subsequent jazz vocalists.[2]

The 1900 census indicates that Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in July 1892. However, the 1910 census recorded her birthday as April 15, 1894, a date that appears on all subsequent documents and was observed by the entire Smith family. Census data also contributes to controversy about the size of her family. The 1870 and 1880 censuses report three older half-siblings, while later interviews with Smith’s family and contemporaries did not include these individuals among her siblings.

Bessie Smith was the daughter of Laura (née Owens) and William Smith. William Smith was a laborer and part-time Baptist preacher (he was listed in the 1870 census as a “minister of the gospel“, in Moulton, Lawrence, Alabama.) He died before his daughter could remember him. By the time she was nine, she had lost her mother as well. Her older sister Viola took charge of caring for her siblings.[3]

1929 “Saint Louis Blues”

To earn money for their impoverished household, Bessie Smith and her brother Andrew began busking on the streets of Chattanooga as a duo: she singing and dancing, he accompanying her on guitar. Their favorite location was in front of the White Elephant Saloon at Thirteenth and Elm streets in the heart of the city’s African-American community.

“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”

In 1904, her oldest brother, Clarence, covertly left home by joining a small traveling troupe owned by Moses Stokes. “If Bessie had been old enough, she would have gone with him,” said Clarence’s widow, Maud. “That’s why he left without telling her, but Clarence told me she was ready, even then. Of course, she was only a child.”[4]

In 1912, Clarence returned to Chattanooga with the Stokes troupe. He arranged for its managers, Lonnie and Cora Fisher, to give Smith an audition. She was hired as a dancer rather than a singer, because the company also included the notable singer Ma Rainey.

“Gimme A Pigfoot”

By the early 1920s, Smith had starred with Sidney Bechet in How Come?, a musical that made its way to Broadway. She spent several years working out of Atlanta, Georgia‘s 81 Theater, and performing in black theaters along the East Coast. Following a run-in with the producer of How Come?, Smith was replaced by Alberta Hunter and returned to Philadelphia, where she had taken up residence.

There, she met and fell in love with Jack Gee, a security guard whom she married on June 7, 1923, just as her first recordings were being released by Columbia Records. The marriage was a stormy one, with infidelity on both sides. During the marriage, Smith became the biggest headliner on the black Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) circuit. Her show sometimes featured as many as 40 troupers and made her the highest-paid black entertainer of her day. Gee was impressed by the money, but never adjusted to show business life, or to Smith’s bisexuality. In 1929, when Smith learned of Gee’s affair with Gertrude Saunders, another performer, she ended the marriage, though she never sought a divorce.

Smith eventually found a common-law husband in an old friend, Richard Morgan, who was Lionel Hampton‘s uncle and the antithesis of her husband. She stayed with him until her death.[5]

All contemporary accounts indicate that while Rainey did not teach Smith to sing, she probably helped her develop a stage presence.[6] Smith began forming her own act around 1913, at Atlanta’s “81” Theater. By 1920 Smith had established a reputation in the South and along the Eastern Seaboard.

“I’m Wild About That Thing”

In 1920, sales figures for “Crazy Blues,” an Okeh Records recording by singer Mamie Smith (no relation) pointed to a new market. The recording industry had not directed its product to blacks, but the success of the record led to a search for female blues singers. Bessie Smith was signed by Columbia Records in 1923 and her first session for Columbia was February 15, 1923. For most of 1923, her records were issued on Columbia’s regular A- series; when the label decided to establish a “race records” series, Smith’s “Cemetery Blues” (September 26, 1923) was the first issued.

She scored a big hit with her first release, a coupling of “Gulf Coast Blues” and “Downhearted Blues“, which its composer Alberta Hunter had already turned into a hit on the Paramount label. Smith became a headliner on the black T.O.B.A. circuit and rose to become its top attraction in the 1920s.[7] Working a heavy theater schedule during the winter months and doing tent tours the rest of the year (eventually traveling in her own railroad car), Smith became the highest-paid black entertainer of her day.[8] Columbia nicknamed her “Queen of the Blues,” but a PR-minded press soon upgraded her title to “Empress”.

“Do Your Duty”

She made some 160 recordings for Columbia, often accompanied by the finest musicians of the day, most notably Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, Joe Smith, Charlie Green and Fletcher Henderson. Smith’s career was cut short by a combination of the Great Depression (which all but put the recording industry out of business) and the advent of “talkies“, which spelled the end for vaudeville. She never stopped performing, however. While the days of elaborate vaudeville shows were over, Smith continued touring and occasionally singing in clubs. In 1929, she appeared in a Broadway flop called Pansy, a musical in which top critics said she was the only asset. In 1929, Smith made her only film appearance, starring in a two-reeler titled St. Louis Blues, based on W. C. Handy‘s song of the same name. In the film, directed by Dudley Murphy and shot in Astoria, she sings the title song accompanied by members of Fletcher Henderson‘s orchestra, the Hall Johnson Choir, pianist James P. Johnson and a string section — a musical environment radically different from any found on her recordings.

1927 “After You’ve Gone”

In 1933, John Hammond, who also mentored Billie Holiday, asked Smith to record four sides for Okeh (which had been acquired by Columbia Records in 1925). He claimed to have found her in semi-obscurity, working as a hostess in a speakeasy on Philadelphia’s Ridge Avenue.[9] Bessie Smith worked at Art’s Cafe on Ridge Avenue, but not as a hostess and not until the summer of 1936. In 1933, when she made the Okeh sides, Bessie was still touring. Hammond was known for his selective memory and gratuitous embellishments.[10]

“Tain’t Nobody’s Business”

Bessie Smith was paid a non-royalty fee of $37.50 for each selection and these Okeh sides, which were her last recordings. Made November 24, 1933, they serve as a hint of the transformation she made in her performances as she shifted her blues artistry into something that fit the “swing era“. The relatively modern accompaniment is notable. The band included such swing era musicians as trombonist Jack Teagarden, trumpeter Frankie Newton, tenor saxophonist Chu Berry, pianist Buck Washington, guitarist Bobby Johnson, and bassist Billy Taylor. Benny Goodman, who happened to be recording with Ethel Waters in the adjoining studio, dropped by and is barely audible on one selection. Hammond was not entirely pleased with the results, preferring to have Smith revisit her old blues groove. Her “Take Me For A Buggy Ride” and “Gimme a Pigfoot” continue to be ranked among her most popular recordings.[11].

On September 26, 1937, Smith was critically injured in a car accident while traveling along U.S. Route 61 between Memphis, Tennessee, and Clarksdale, Mississippi. Her lover, Richard Morgan, was driving and, probably mesmerized by the long stretch of straight road, misjudged the speed of a slow-moving truck ahead of him. Tire marks at the scene suggested that Morgan tried to avoid the truck by driving around its left side, but he hit the rear of the truck side-on at high speed. The tailgate of the truck sheared off the wooden roof of Smith’s old Packard. Smith, who was in the passenger seat, probably with her right arm or elbow out the window, took the full brunt of the impact. Morgan escaped without injuries.

“Sobbin Hearted Blues” 1925 with Louis Armstrong

The first people on the scene were a Memphis surgeon, Dr. Hugh Smith (no relation), and his fishing partner Henry Broughton. In the early 1970s, Dr. Smith gave a detailed account of his experience to Bessie’s biographer Chris Albertson. This is the most reliable eyewitness testimony about the events surrounding Bessie Smith’s death.

After stopping at the accident scene, Dr. Smith examined Bessie Smith, who was lying in the middle of the road with obviously severe injuries. He estimated she had lost about a half-pint of blood, and immediately noted a major traumatic injury to her right arm; it had been almost completely severed at the elbow. But Dr. Smith was emphatic that this arm injury alone did not cause her death. Although the light was poor, he observed only minor head injuries. He attributed her death to extensive and severe crush injuries to the entire right side of her body, consistent with a “sideswipe” collision.[12]

Broughton and Dr. Smith moved the singer to the shoulder of the road. Dr. Smith dressed her arm injury with a clean handkerchief and asked Broughton to go to a house about 500 feet off the road to call an ambulance.

By the time Broughton returned, about 25 minutes had elapsed since the accident and Bessie Smith was in shock. Time passed with no sign of the ambulance, so Dr. Smith suggested that they take her into Clarksdale in his car. He and Broughton had almost finished clearing the back seat when they heard the sound of a car approaching at high speed. Dr. Smith flashed his lights in warning, but the oncoming car failed to stop and plowed into the doctor’s car at full speed. It sent his car careening into Bessie Smith’s overturned Packard, completely wrecking it. The oncoming car ricocheted off Dr. Smith’s car into the ditch on the right, barely missing Broughton and Bessie Smith.[13]

“A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight”

The young couple in the new car did not have life-threatening injuries. Two ambulances arrived on the scene from Clarksdale; one from the black hospital, summoned by Mr. Broughton, the other from the white hospital, acting on a report from the truck driver, who had not seen the accident victims.

Bessie Smith was taken to Clarksdale’s Afro-American Hospital where her right arm was amputated. She died that morning without regaining consciousness. After Smith’s death, an often repeated but now discredited story emerged about the circumstances; namely, that she had died as a result of having been refused admission to a “whites only” hospital in Clarksdale. Jazz writer/producer John Hammond gave this account in an article in the November 1937 issue of Down Beat magazine. The circumstances of Smith’s death and the rumor promoted by Hammond formed the basis for Edward Albee‘s 1959 one-act play The Death of Bessie Smith.

“The Bessie Smith ambulance would not have gone to a white hospital, you can forget that.” Dr. Smith told Albertson. “Down in the Deep South cotton country, no ambulance driver, or white driver, would even have thought of putting a colored person off in a hospital for white folks.”[14]

Smith’s funeral was held in Philadelphia on Monday, October 4, 1937. Her body was originally laid out at Upshur’s funeral home. As word of her death spread through Philadelphia’s black community, the body had to be moved to the O.V. Catto Elks Lodge to accommodate the estimated 10,000 mourners who filed past her coffin on Sunday, October 3.[15] Contemporary newspapers reported that her funeral was attended by about seven thousand people. Far fewer mourners attended the burial at Mount Lawn Cemetery, in nearby Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania. Gee thwarted all efforts to purchase a stone for his estranged wife, once or twice pocketing money raised for that purpose.[16]

The grave remained unmarked until August 7, 1970, when a tombstone—paid for by singer Janis Joplin and Juanita Green, who as a child had done housework for Smith—was erected.[17]

The Afro-American Hospital, now the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale, was the site of the dedication of the fourth historic marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail.[18]

Frances Langford

Frances Newbern Langford (April 4, 1913 – July 11, 2005) was an American singer and entertainer who was popular during the Golden Age of Radio and also made film appearances over two decades. Born Julia Frances Newbern Langford in Lakeland, Florida, she was the daughter of Vasco Cleveland Langford and his wife, Anna Rhea Newbern. Langford originally trained as an opera singer. While a young girl she required a tonsillectomy that changed her soprano range to a contralto. As a result, she was forced to change her vocal style to a more contemporary big band, popular music style. At age 17, she was singing for local dances. Cigar manufacturer Eli Witt heard her sing at an American Legion party and hired her to sing on his local radio show.[1] While singing for radio during the early 1930s, she was heard by Rudy Vallee, who invited her to become a regular on his radio show.[2] From 1935 until 1938 she was a regular performer on Dick Powell‘s radio show. From 1946 to 1951, she performed with Don Ameche on The Bickersons. With her film debut in Every Night at Eight (1935) she introduced what became her signature song: “I’m in the Mood for Love.” She then began appearing frequently in films such as Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Born to Dance (1936) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) with James Cagney, in which (portraying Nora Bayes) she performed the popular song “Over There.” In several of these films, such as Broadway Melody, she appeared as herself, as she did in 1953 in The Glenn Miller Story where she sang “Chattanooga Choo Choo” with the Modernaires and the movie orchestra.

“Chattanooga Choo Choo”

“Easy To Love”

From 1941, Langford was a regular singer on Bob Hope‘s radio show. During World War II, she joined Hope, Jerry Colonna, and other performers on U.S.O. tours through Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific, entertaining thousands of G.I.’s throughout the world.

In his memoir, Don’t Shoot! It’s Only Me!, Bob Hope recalled how Frances Langford got the biggest laugh he had ever heard. At a U.S.O. show in the South Pacific, Langford stood up on a stage to sing before a huge crowd of G.I.’s. When Langford sang the first line of her signature song, “I’m in the Mood for Love,” a soldier in the audience stood up and shouted, “You’ve come to the right place, honey!”

Also, during the war, Langford wrote a weekly column for Hearst Newspapers, entitled “Purple Heart Diary,” in which she described her visits to military hospitals to entertain wounded G.I.’s. She used the weekly column as a means of allowing the recovering troops to voice their complaints, and to ask for public support for making sure that the wounded troops received all the supplies and comforts they needed.

“Moonglow”

1940 “Who Am I” with Ann Miller

Her association with Hope continued into the 1980s. In 1989 she joined him for a USO tour to entertain troops in the Persian Gulf. She worked for several years in the late 1940s on Spike Jones‘ show and starred in a short-lived DuMont variety show Star Time (1950). She then teamed with Don Ameche for the ABC television program, The Frances Langford/Don Ameche Show (1951), a spin-off of their successful radio series The Bickersons in which the duo played a feuding married couple. Langford was also the host of the NBC musical variety program Frances Langford Presents (1959), which lasted one season. Langford made an appearance in The Honeymooners lost episode “Christmas Party” which first aired December 19, 1953.

“I’m In The Mood For Love”

“Once In A While”

Frances Langford married three times. Her first husband, from 1934 until 1955, was actor Jon Hall. In 1948 they donated 20 acres of land near her estate in Jensen Beach, Florida to the Board of County Commissioners of Martin County, which named it Langford Hall Park. Located at 2369 N.E. Dixie Highway just south of the Stuart Welcome Arch, it is known today simply as Langford Park and is one of the county’s major parks.[3][4]

In 1955, she married Outboard Marine Corporation President Ralph Evinrude. They lived on her estate in Jensen Beach and opened a resort they named The Outrigger, where Langford frequently performed. Evinrude died in 1986. In 1994, she married Harold Stuart, who had been an assistant secretary of the United States Air Force under President Harry S. Truman and who survived her. She had no children.

Langford was a supportive member of the Jensen Beach community and constantly donated money to the community. She died at her Jensen Beach home at age 92 from congestive heart failure. In 2006, the Frances Langford Heart Center, made possible by a bequest from her estate, opened at Martin Memorial Hospital in Stuart, Florida.[5]

“Beat The Band”

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, nndb.com, imdb.com

Filmography

  • The Subway Symphony (1932) (short subject)
  • Rambling ‘Round Radio Row #5 (1933) (short subject)
  • Every Night at Eight (1935)
  • Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935)
  • Collegiate (1936)
  • Palm Springs (1936)
  • Sunkist Stars at Palm Springs (1936) (short subject)
  • Born to Dance (1936)
  • Hit Parade of 1937 (1937)
  • Hollywood Hotel (1937)
  • Dreaming Out Loud (1940)
  • Too Many Girls (1940)
  • Hit Parade of 1941 (1940)
  • Swing It Soldier (1941)
  • All American Co-Ed (1941)
  • Picture People No. 4: Stars Day Off (1941) (short subject)
  • Mississippi Gambler (1942)
  • Picture People No. 10: Hollywood at Home (1942) (short subject)
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
  • Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood No. 4 (1942) (short subject)
  • Combat America (1943) (documentary)
  • Follow the Band (1943)
  • Cowboy in Manhattan (1943)
  • This Is the Army (1943)
  • Never a Dull Moment (1943)
  • Career Girl (1944)
  • Memo for Joe (1944) (short subject)
  • Dixie Jamboree (1944)
  • Girl Rush (1944)
  • Radio Stars on Parade (1945)
  • People Are Funny (1946)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Victory Show (1946) (short subject)
  • The Bamboo Blonde (1946)
  • Beat the Band (1947)
  • Melody Time (1948) (voice)
  • Deputy Marshal (1949)
  • Purple Heart Diary (1951)
  • The Glenn Miller Story (1953)
  • Fun at St. Fanny’s (1956)

Cole Porter

Cole Albert Porter (June 9, 1891 – October 15, 1964) was an American composer and songwriter. His works include the musical comedies Kiss Me, Kate, Fifty Million Frenchmen, DuBarry Was a Lady and Anything Goes, as well as songs like “Night and Day“, “I Get a Kick out of You“, “Well, Did You Evah!” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin“. He was noted for his sophisticated, bawdy lyrics, clever rhymes and complex forms. Porter was one of the greatest contributors to the Great American Songbook. Cole Porter is one of the few Tin Pan Alley composers to have written both the lyrics and the music for his songs. Porter was born in Peru, Indiana, the only child of a wealthy Baptist family.[1] His father, Samuel Fenwick Porter, was a druggist by trade;[2] his mother, Kate, was the indulged daughter of James Omar “J.O.” Cole, “the richest man in Indiana”, a coal and timber speculator who dominated the family.[3] Kate started Porter in musical training at an early age. He learned the violin at age six, the piano at eight, and he wrote his first operetta (with help from his mother) at 10. She falsified his recorded birth year from 1891 to 1893 to make him appear more precocious.[3] His father, who was a shy and unassertive man, played a lesser role in Porter’s upbringing, although as an amateur poet he may have influenced his son’s gifts for rhyme and meter.[2]

“Night and Day”

Ella’s version of the song.

J.O. Cole wanted his grandson to become a lawyer,[3] and with that career in mind sent him to Worcester Academy in 1905. He became class valedictorian,[3] and was rewarded by his grandfather with a tour of France, Switzerland and Germany.[4] After this he attended Yale University beginning in 1909, where he was a member of Scroll and Key and Delta Kappa Epsilon (Phi chapter) and sang both in the Yale Glee Club, of which he was elected president his senior year, and in the original line-up of the Whiffenpoofs. While at Yale, he wrote a number of student songs, including the football fight songs “Bulldog Bulldog” and “Bingo Eli Yale” (aka “Bingo, That’s The Lingo!”) that are still played at Yale today.[5] Porter wrote 300 songs while at Yale.[3] After graduating from Yale, Porter studied at Harvard Law School in 1913 (where he roomed with Dean Acheson).[3] He soon felt that he was not destined to be a lawyer, and, at the suggestion of the dean of the law school, Porter switched to Harvard’s music faculty, where he studied harmony and counterpoint with Pietro Yon.[2] Kate Porter did not object to this move, but it was kept secret from J. O. Cole.[3]

“Cheek To Cheek”

In 1915, Porter’s first song on Broadway , “Esmeralda”, appeared in the revue Hands Up. The quick success was immediately followed by failure: his first Broadway production, in 1916, See America First, a “patriotic comic opera” modeled on Gilbert and Sullivan, with a book by T. Lawrason Riggs, was a flop, closing after two weeks.[6]

In 1917, the year in which the U.S. entered World War I, Porter moved to Paris. He distributed relief supplies for three months, but the extent of his other war work is unclear. Some writers have been skeptical about Porter’s claim to have served in the French Foreign Legion,[3][6] although the Legion itself lists Porter as one of its soldiers[7] and displays his portrait at its museum in Aubagne.[8] By some accounts, he served in North Africa and was transferred to the French Officers School at Fontainebleau, teaching gunnery to American soldiers.[9] One obituary notice said that, while in the Legion, “he had a specially constructed portable piano made for him so that he could carry it on his back and entertain the troops in their bivouacs.”[10]

“Anything Goes” -This is Cole Porter singing!!

Porter maintained a luxury apartment in Paris, where he entertained lavishly. His parties were extravagant and scandalous, with “much gay and bisexual activity, Italian nobility, cross-dressing, international musicians, and a large surplus of recreational drugs.”[3] In 1918, he met Linda Lee Thomas, a rich, Louisville, Kentucky-born divorcée eight years his senior,[1] whom he married the following year. She was in no doubt about Porter’s homosexuality,[11] but it was mutually advantageous for them to marry: for Linda it offered continued social status with a partner who was the antithesis of her abusive first husband; for Porter it brought a respectable heterosexual front in an era when homosexuality was not publicly acknowledged. They were, moreover, genuinely devoted to each other and remained married from December 19, 1919 until Linda’s death in 1954.[3] Linda remained protective of her social status, and believing that classical music might be a more prestigious outlet than Broadway for her husband’s talents, she tried to use her social connections to find him suitable teachers, including Igor Stravinsky, but was unsuccessful. Finally, Porter enrolled at the Schola Cantorum in Paris where he studied orchestration and counterpoint with Vincent d’Indy.[2] Meanwhile, Porter’s first big hit was the song “Old-Fashioned Garden” from the revue Hitchy-Koo in 1919.[1]

Cole Porter singing, “You’re The Top”

Marriage did not diminish Porter’s taste for extravagant luxury. The Porter home on the rue Monsieur near Les Invalides was a palatial house with platinum wallpaper and chairs upholstered in zebra skin.[10] In 1923, Porter came into an inheritance from his grandfather, and he began renting Venetian palaces. He once hired the entire Ballets Russes to entertain his house guests, and for a party at Ca’ Rezzonico, which he rented for $4,000 a month ($51,000 in current value), he hired 50 gondoliers to act as footmen and had a troupe of tight-rope walkers perform in a blaze of lights.[10]

Unlike contemporaries such as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, Porter did not succeed on Broadway in his early years. Dismayed by his failures, he moved to Europe, living for some time in Paris and Venice on his family’s and his wife’s money. He was not idle, however, and continued to write. Many of the songs from this period would later be hits. He also wrote a ballet in 1923.[1] In his autobiography, Musical Stages, Richard Rodgers relates an anecdote about meeting Porter in Venice during this period. Porter played Rodgers several of his compositions, and Rodgers was highly impressed, wondering why Porter was not represented on Broadway. Rodgers didn’t realize that Porter had already written several shows that had flopped.

Natalie Cole singing, “Every Time We Say Goodbye”

Porter reintroduced himself to Broadway with the musical Paris (1928), which featured one of his greatest “list” songs, “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)“. Continuing with this Gallic theme, his next show was Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929), which included several popular numbers including “You Do Something to Me“, “You’ve Got That Thing” and “The Tale of the Oyster”. Finishing out the decade, opening on December 30, 1929, was Wake Up and Dream, with a score that included “What Is This Thing Called Love?

He started the 1930s with the revue The New Yorkers (1930), which included a song about a streetwalker, “Love for Sale“. The lyric was considered too explicit for radio at the time, though it was recorded and aired as an instrumental, but the song has now become a standard. Next came Fred Astaire‘s last stage show, Gay Divorce (1932). It featured a hit that would become perhaps Porter’s best-known song, “Night and Day“. In 1934, Porter wrote what is thought by most to be his greatest score of this period, Anything Goes (1934). Its songs include “I Get a Kick out of You“, “All Through the Night”, “You’re the Top” (perhaps his ultimate “list” song), and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow”, as well as the title number. For years afterwards, critics would unfavorably compare most Porter shows to this one. Anything Goes was also the first Porter show featuring Ethel Merman, who would go on to star in five of his musicals. He loved her loud, brassy voice, and wrote many numbers that featured her strengths. Jubilee (1935), written with Moss Hart while on a cruise around the world, was not a major hit, but featured two songs that have since become part of the Great American Songbook, “Begin the Beguine” and “Just One of Those Things“. Red Hot And Blue (1936), featuring Merman, Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope, introduced “It’s De-Lovely”, “Down in the Depths (on the Ninetieth Floor)“, and “Ridin’ High”.

Cleo Laine as you have neer heard her!! Singing Cole Porter’s “Riding High” Listen to the song all the way through. Cleo hits some notes at the end that are almost “un-human!!”

Porter also wrote for Hollywood, including the scores for Born to Dance (1936), featuring “You’d Be So Easy to Love” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin“, and Rosalie (1937), featuring “In the Still of the Night“. In addition, he composed the cowboy song “Don’t Fence Me In” for an unproduced movie in the 1930s, but it didn’t become a hit until Roy Rogers and Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters, as well as other artists, introduced it to the public in the 1940s. Porter continued to live the high life during this period, throwing lavish parties and associating with famous people like Elsa Maxwell, Monty Woolley, Beatrice Lillie, Igor Stravinsky and Fanny Brice. Some of his lyrics mention his illustrious friends. Now at the height of his success, Porter was able to enjoy the opening night of his musicals; he would make a grand entrance and sit in front, apparently relishing the show as much as any audience member.

On October 24, 1937, Porter was riding horses with the Countess Edith di Zoppola and the Duke de Verdura at the Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, New York, when his horse rolled on him and crushed his legs, leaving him mostly crippled and in constant pain.[12] [13][14] Porter claimed that he composed the lyrics to part of “At Long Last Love” while lying in pain waiting to be rescued from the accident. Though doctors told Porter’s wife and mother that his right leg would have to be amputated, and possibly the left one as well, he refused to have the procedure. Porter underwent more than 30 surgeries on his legs and was in constant pain for the rest of his life. He was one of the first people to receive electric shock therapy. The many operations led him to severe depression.

“You’ve Got That thing”

Despite his pain, Porter continued to write successful shows. Leave It to Me! (1938) (introducing Mary Martin singing “My Heart Belongs to Daddy“), DuBarry Was a Lady (1939), Panama Hattie (1940), Let’s Face It! (1941), Something for the Boys (1943), and Mexican Hayride (1944) were all hits. These shows included songs such as “Get Out of Town”, “Friendship”, “Make It Another Old-Fashioned Please”, and “I Love You“. Porter liked to use as many as four different orchestrators to cover the various arrangements he envisaged for his scores.[15] Nevertheless, Porter was turning out fewer hit songs and, to some critics, his music was less magical. After two flops, Seven Lively Arts (1944) (which featured the standard “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”) and Around the World (1946), many thought that his best period was over.

In 1948, Porter made a great comeback, writing his biggest hit show, Kiss Me, Kate. The production won the Tony Award for Best Musical (the first Tony awarded in that category), and Porter won for Best Composer and Lyricist. The score includes “Another Op’nin’ Another Show”, “Wunderbar”, “So In Love“, “We Open in Venice”, “Tom, Dick or Harry”, “I’ve Come to Wive It Wealthily in Padua”, “Too Darn Hot“, “Always True to You (in My Fashion)“, and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”. Though his next show, Out Of This World (1950), was not greatly successful, the show after that, Can-Can (1952), featuring “C’est Magnifique” and “It’s All Right with Me“, was another hit. His last original Broadway production, Silk Stockings (1955), featuring “All of You”, was also successful.

Judy Garland Medley of Cole Porter Songs

Meanwhile, Porter continued to work in Hollywood, writing the scores for two Fred Astaire movies, Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), which featured an old hit, “Begin The Beguine,” and a new one, “I Concentrate on You”, and You’ll Never Get Rich (1941). He later wrote the songs for the Gene Kelly and Judy Garland musical The Pirate (1948). The film lost money, though it features the standard “Be a Clown” (echoed in Donald O’Connor‘s performance of “Make ‘Em Laugh” in the 1952 musical film Singin’ in the Rain). High Society (1956), starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly, had Porter’s last major hit, “True Love“.[1] He wrote songs for Les Girls (1957) with Gene Kelly. His final score was for a CBS color special, Aladdin (1958). Columbia Records issued a recording of songs from the program.

Eventually, his injuries caused a series of ulcers on his right leg. After 34 operations, it had to be amputated and replaced with an artificial limb in 1958. The operation followed the death of his beloved mother in 1952 and his wife’s death from emphysema in 1954. Porter never wrote another song after 1958 and spent the remaining years of his life in relative seclusion.

Frances Langford sings “You’d Be So easy To Love”

Porter died of kidney failure on October 15, 1964, at the age of 73 in Santa Monica, California. He is interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in his native Peru, Indiana, between his wife and father, even though Porter was not close with his father.[16]

In 1956, the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook was released by the American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by a studio orchestra conducted and arranged by Buddy Bregman. The Swedish pop group Gyllene Tider recorded a song called Flickan i en Cole Porter-sång (That girl from the Cole Porter song) in 1982. In 1990 Dionne Warwick released an album called Dionne Sings Cole Porter. In that same year Red Hot + Blue was released featuring 20 Cole Porter songs recorded by artists such as U2, Annie Lennox and Shane MacGowan as a benefit CD for AIDS research. In country singer Jo Dee Messina‘s song “These Are the Days”, the protagonist reveals that she sings old Cole Porter songs. John Barrowman, who played “Jack” in the 2004 film De-Lovely released “John Barrowman Swings Cole Porter,” a collection of Cole Porter songs in October 2004. In 2004 jazz and electronica producer Billy Paul Williams released an album named The Porter Project. In 2008, pianist/vocalist Patricia Barber released The Cole Porter Mix, consisting of her take on 10 Cole Porter classics as well as three originals inspired by Cole Porter.

Carmen McRae singing “I Concentrate On You” (I must confess, she is my favorite jazz singer!)

Judy Garland performed a medley of Porter’s songs at the 37th Academy Awards, the first Oscars ceremony held following Porter’s death. Porter’s life was made into Night and Day, a very sanitized 1946 Michael Curtiz film starring Cary Grant and Alexis Smith. His life was chronicled more realistically in De-Lovely, a 2004 Irwin Winkler film starring Kevin Kline as Porter and Ashley Judd as Linda.[17] The Cole Porter Festival is held every year the second weekend of June, in his hometown of Peru, Indiana. The festival fosters music and art appreciation by celebrating Porter’s life and music. In 1980, Porter’s music was used for the score of Happy New Year, based on the Philip Barry play Holiday. He is referenced in the song “The Call of the Wild” (Merengue) by David Byrne on his 1989 album Rei Momo. He is also mentioned in the song “Tonite It Shows” by Mercury Rev on their 1998 album Deserter’s Songs. At halftime of the 1991 Orange Bowl between Colorado and Notre Dame, Joel Grey led a large cast of singers and dancers in a tribute to Porter marking the one hundredth anniversary of his birth. The program was called, “You’ll Get a Kick Out of Cole”.

Artie Shaw’s Band performing, “Begin The Beguine”

The French Foreign Legion honors Porter with a portrait that hangs in the Legion’s official museum. Porter was a Steinway Artist, which means that he chose to perform on Steinway pianos exclusively, and he owned a Steinway piano. Porter’s piano is currently in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.[18][19]

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, nndb.com, imdb.com

Shows listed are stage musicals unless otherwise noted. Where the show was later made into a film, the year refers to the stage version. A complete list of Porter’s works is in the Library of Congress (Complete List of Cole Porter works, and Cole Porter Collection at the Library of Congress).