[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two articles dealing with the topic of prominent Big Band vocalists who went on to have success in the post-Big Band era of the 1950s, and sometimes beyond. The first column told about female Big Band artists, and this one features male singers.]
Virtually all significant orchestras of the Big Band Era of the 1930s and 1940s had a featured male vocalist, and on some occasions, singers such as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby became star attractions of the bands they performed for.
As the Big Band Era gave way to softer pop vocals followed by rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, many singers popular in the previous decade became has-beens, but some maintained star power, continuing to have an impact on the American pop music charts. Further, some became prominent on music-themed shows that emerged on TV screens in the 1950s, and some branched out and became movie box-office personalities.
A previous column examined the careers of 10 Big Band female vocalists who successfully “survived” into the ’50s, and to view that column, click here. This article takes a look at 10 male vocalists who kept going into the ’50s, and each thumbnail review includes links to one of their Big Band songs and one of their ’50s or ’60s releases.
Two famous singers, Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole, may seem absent from this column. However, Bennett got his singing start in the mid-1940s, and rather than singing with Big Band orchestras, he was with U.S. Army bands and involved in performing with Bob Hope, and he didn’t sign with a record label until he did so with Columbia in 1950. Cole — although he sang with his own band at age 17 and later with the Nat King Cole Trio — never was involved with one of the major orchestras in the Big Band Era.
Some other top-notch Big Band male singers — including brothers Bob Eberly (with Jimmy Dorsey) and Ray Eberle (with Glenn Miller) — were prominent in the late ’30s and through much of the ’40s, but they were pretty much has-beens by the time the ’50s rolled around.
Following is a brief look at some of the Big Band-to-pop transitionists, and to hear any of the sample music selections, simply click on the song’s title:
- FRANK SINATRA was, without question, one of the premier American entertainers of the 20th Century. The native of Hoboken, N.J., was the featured vocalist with Harry James in 1939-40, and he sang with Tommy Dorsey for three years until going solo in late 1942, after which he amassed 40 Top 40 hits over the next dozen years. He also starred as a movie actor and a Las Vegas showman. BIG BAND SELECTION: “In The Blue Of Evening” (with Tommy Dorsey, 1942): LATER SELECTION: “Strangers In The Night” (1966), his final No. 1 charter.
- BING CROSBY — born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Wash. — also became one of 20th Century’s greatest U.S. entertainers, selling more than 300 million records and appearing in more than 50 movies. His career began when he was hired by Paul Whiteman, and at the outset, he didn’t get much recognition, and in fact, his name didn’t even appear on some early Whiteman orchestra recordings. He was one of the first singers to have his own radio show, with a CBS time slot in 1931. BIG BAND SELECTION: “Ol’ Man River” (with Paul Whiteman, 1928). a rendition that topped the U.S. charts prior to the more-famous later recording by Paul Robeson. LATER SELECTION: “White Christmas” (with John Scott Trotter, 1942), and although it was recorded in 1942, it charted nationally for decades thereafter, even as late as 1998.
- PERRY COMO, sometimes dubbed “Mr. C”, was born Pierino Ronald Como in Canonsburg, Pa., and with Italian heritage, he didn’t begin speaking English until entering school. Originally a barber, he launched a singing career with orchestras led by Freddy Carlone and Ted Weems in the late ’30s, and when he turned solo in 1943, he recorded exclusively with the RCA label thereafter. He also had one of the longest TV show run of any singer, with shows airing from 1949 to 1967. BIG BAND SELECTION: “That Old Gang Of Mine” (with Ted Weems, 1939). LATER SELECTION: “Round And Round” (1957), a No. 1 song that remained in the Billboard Hot 100 for 29 weeks.
- FRANKIE LAINE — born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio in Chicago before relocating to New York City and then Los Angeles — got his first break when he replaced Perry Como with the Freddy Carlone Band in 1937. He rose to prominence in the post-World War II era, and his first of 15 top 10 hits was “That’s My Desire” in 1947. He had three consecutive No. 1s — “That Lucky Old Sun”, “Mule Train” and “Call Of The Wild Goose” — in 1949-50. BIG BAND SELECTION: “Melancholy Madeline” (with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, 1945). LATER SELECTION: “Jealousy” (1951), which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Magazine pop charts.
- GUY MITCHELL, born Al Cernik in Detroit, got his first Big Band opportunity with Carmen Cavallaro in 1947 at age 20. After recording as Al Grant in the late ’40s, he was discovered by Columbia Records’ Mitch Miller and signed to a contract with that label in early 1950, and after being “renamed” Guy Mitchell, at Miller’s suggestion, his career took off. BIG BAND SELECTION: “Cabaret” (with Dewey Bergman, 1949), the first of nine records he recorded on the King label under the Al Grant moniker. LATER SELECTION: “Singing The Blues” (1956), which topped the national charts for 10 consecutive weeks.
- EDDIE FISHER, a Philadelphia native, was singing at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City by the age of 17, and he was with the Buddy Morrow and Charlie Ventura orchestras in the mid-1940s. His wives included Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor and Connie Stevens, and he also appeared in many movies. His last Billboard Hot 100 item was “People Like You” (No. 97 in 1967). BIG BAND SELECTION: “Thinking Of You” (with Buddy Morrow, 1946). LATER SELECTION: “Dungaree Doll” (1955), which got to No. 7 on the Billboard pop charts.
- VIC DAMONE, born Vito Farinola in Brooklyn, was a prominent ballad singer and actor, and he had his own television show in 1956-7. He audtioned on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and won in April 1947, and that led to an instant recording contract with Mercury Records. His last Billboard charter was “You Were Only Fooling” (No. 30 in 1965). BIG BAND SELECTION: “You’re Breaking My Heart” (with Glenn Osser, 1949), a million-selling No. 1 song. LATER SELECTION: “On The Street Where You Live” (1956) spent 16 weeks in the national Top 40, peaking at No. 4.
- TONY MARTIN was born Alvin Morris Jr. in Oakland. After singing with Big Bands led by Victor Young and Ray Noble, he signed with Mercury Records in 1946, and he had a million seller with “To Each His Own” that year. After completing his obligation with Mercury, he signed a pact with RCA. He starred in films such as “Easy To Love and “Music In My Heart”, and he was married to actress Cyd Charisse for 60 years. BIG BAND SELECTION: “My Walking Stick” (with Ray Noble, 1938), written by Irving Berlin for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” LATER SELECTION: “I Get Ideas” (1951), which climbed to No. 3 on the national pop charts. LATER SELECTION: “Walk Hand In Hand” (1956), a Top 10 single that spent 20 weeks in the Billboard Hot 100.
- JOHNNY DESMOND, born Giovanni Alfredo De Simone in Detroit, sang with Big Bands led by Bob Crosby, Gene Krupa and Glenn Miller. He also was a regular on the Breakfast Club radio show, and he made frequent appearances on TV’s Your Hit Parade in the late ’50s. BIG BAND SELECTION: “All Those Wonderful Years” (with Gene Krupa, 1941), soon after replacing Howard DuLany as lead singer with the band. LATER SELECTION: “Play Me Hearts And Flowers” (1955), a No. 6 billboard hit, backed by Dick Jacobs’ orchestra.
- DICK HAYMES was an Argentina-born actor and singer who became one of the most popular male vocalists of the 1940s and early 1950s. He was a vocalist with Harry James and Benny Goodman, and he also worked in Hollywood and radio. To hear part of a 1942 radio broadcast in which Frank Sinatra introduced Haymes as his replacement in the Tommy Dorsey band, click here. BIG BAND SELECTION: “I’ll Get By” (with Harry James, 1944), a chart-topping hit. LATER SELECTION: “Two Different Worlds” (1956), his final Billboard pop charter.
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