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THE PASSING OF THE CROONERS

Posted by Tim Bryce on December 14, 2012

BRYCE ON LIFE

– How the rich music of Sinatra, Como, Crosby, Martin, et al is slipping away from us.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

Emerging from the Big Band era of the 1930’s was the “Crooner,” a lead singer who was usually male. Actually, the crooner is the stepchild of both Big Band and the Jazz era. Unlike those eras though, the emphasis was on the singer as opposed to just the sound of the music. These were people with unique voices supported by slick orchestras, and singing the popular songs of the day, primarily the 1940’s and 1950’s. These were people with magnetic personalities which were derived, in large part, from the types of love songs they sang; people like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennett, most of whom are long gone. Interestingly, Sinatra disliked the “Crooner” label and considered himself more of a star. Capitol Records had a keen eye for crooners and developed a stable of singers where they cultivated their image as well as their music.

Two things were interesting about the crooners in general; first, they had more than just a good singing voice, each possessed a unique characteristic which was difficult to duplicate, and songs were specially selected to match them. Second, all were backed by excellent musicians, not just some hacks who knew how to play an instrument. Further, they had the best arrangers such as Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Ralph Carmichael, Axel Stordahl, Sy Oliver, Percy Faith, Les Brown, and Billy May.

Perhaps the best music from the crooner era came in the 1950’s as audio technology was noticeably enhanced, e.g. “High Fidelity” and “Stereo”. The 50’s also marked the decline of the crooner which was pushed aside for other musical styles, most notably Rock and Roll. The crooners carried on but interest rapidly declined. Tony Bennett, at age 86, remains the last of the greats. The music is still appreciated and lives on through such artists as Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Bublé.

Aside from the greats, there were others who made names for themselves as crooners. They are not as well remembered, but their work was excellent and deserves recognition. In particular, three artists come to mind, all of which broke with the stereotype of the crooner.

Nat King Cole

In an industry dominated by white male singers, Nat King Cole broke the color barrier, particularly in television in the 1950’s where he hosted a variety show. Cole began as an accomplished jazz pianist, but his deep voice led him to the microphone. He was a chain smoker, consuming three packs of Kool cigarettes a day under the belief it helped him tune his rich voice. Eventually, he succumbed to lung cancer as a result. Even though his music lives on, thanks in large part to his daughter, Natalie Cole, most young people are unfamiliar with his name. They may have heard his songs in movies and on the radio, particularly this time of year where “The Christmas Song” is routinely played, but they really do not know who he is.

Cole’s best crooning work includes such greats as “Ramblin Rose,” “Mona Lisa,” “Unforgettable,” “The Very Thought of You,” “Almost Like Being in Love,” and the legendary “Stardust” (arguably one of the best renditions of this famous song). Another personal favorite of mine is his “Route 66” which is more of a jazz piece.

Peggy Lee

Lee certainly earned the recognition of “Crooner” even though she was obviously not one of the boys. Yet, she possessed a smokey purr which was unlike any other female singer, and she tackled the same sort of arrangements the boys did. She was active on the nightclub and concert circuit for years and worked up until near her death in 2002. She began as a singer for Benny Goodman’s orchestra and forged a sophisticated personality essentially no different than Sinatra or Martin; she was a singer’s singer and everyone loved her for it. Although her name is fading away, her music certainly isn’t. Just about every young person is familiar with her signature song, “Fever.” Her classic, “Is That All There Is?,” is a personal favorite and demonstrates her on-air magnetism. Other hits include “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” and “It’s a Good Day.” She is said to be a mentor figure for such musical greats as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Madonna, and Dusty Springfield.

Jimmy Durante

Durante was an unusual character and undoubtedly forgotten by many people (he passed away back in 1980). Whereas the great crooners were handsome men, the old “Schnozzola” (as he was called for his sizable nose) was relatively short and balding. Yet, he had a magnetic personality with a gravely voice unlike everyone else thus mentioned. He was primarily known as a comedian who played a ragtime jazz piano. Durante was one of those rare entertainers who was successful in Vaudeville, radio, television, and movies. His nightclub act was often considered raucous and bawdy. His first jazz hit was “Inka Dinka Doo” which became his signature song, but this was considered lighthearted music that certainly wouldn’t cause a woman to swoon. His serious work came in the late 1950’s and early 60’s as the music technology improved. Even though Durante was advancing in years and possessed a coarse voice, his arrangers helped him produce a string of hits still familiar to a lot of people, including: “Young at Heart,” “As Time Goes By,” “Make Someone Happy,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and “Smile.” These were all proven songs made famous by other artists, but Durante’s rendition is perhaps more memorable.

Although I wish singers like Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Bublé much success, and that others join them, we must realize we have witnessed the passing of an era of some very rich music. The singers today may have some fine voices, but none with the unusual sounds the crooners gave us, coupled with fine orchestrations behind them. We may not know the songs of today, but we certainly remember those the crooners gave us, both those artists with recognized names and those quickly fading from our view.

“Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of  M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

 

NEXT UP:  WHAT IS BUSINESS? – Sounds like an innocent question, but do we have a consensus understanding?

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, (12:30-3:00pm).

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9 Responses to “THE PASSING OF THE CROONERS”

  1. Jenn said

    This is one of my favorite eras of music, although I wasn’t born for any of it. Sinatra, Dean, Garland are among my favorites…and I do like Bennett and Lee as well. While they’ve passed on their music isn’t very far away–just pop in a CD or pull them up on my mp3 player. If I were lucky, I’d still have my record player and I could play my vinyl stacked in the closet.

    Nice post 🙂

    Like

  2. Tim Bryce said

    An S.C. of Holiday, Florida wrote…

    “You brought back old memories. I was one of those who followed Sinatra around. Those were the days of real music and not most of the music of today that come from a press of the button.

    Tears came to my eyes as my memory went back to my youth, the Paramount Theater, the Capitol and the stage shows. Thank you for taking the time to introduce this to those who would have never known.

    Wonderful memories never are forgotten, they just fade away like you mention.”

    Like

  3. Tim Bryce said

    A D.T. of North Carolina wrote…

    “Current crop: Michael Buble, Josh Grobin

    Interesting twist: popularity of a capella groups like on “Glee,” and “Straight, no Chaser”

    Meanwhile, 90% of the population prefer MIDI tracks and autotune vocals.

    Have a blessed and wonderful Christmas,”

    Like

  4. Tim Bryce said

    A W.A. of the Dominican Republic wrote…

    “Thanks for the memories, Tim. My wife and I watch the old Christmas movies every year and just last night we watched “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. After the movie, we just looked at each other and said how sad it is that our children and especially our grandchildren will never really be able to experience the wonderful 50’s and early 60’s that was filled with so many wonderful and uplifting movies that included the best singing and dancing that no one really cares about today. No cussing, no violence but just plain, wholesome and enjoyable 90 minutes that always made you feel good at the end. How did we ever let the hate filled rap music and heavy metal take over the music scene. It is so sad. I was lead singer for many years with a Southern Gospel group as and we sang up and down the east coast and sometimes there were thousands that would come to the concerts that had 3-5 groups sing. We also made records in Nashville. I doubt that nowadays you could get 500 to come to come to a Gospel concert. If only others could really understand it when we say “the good ol’ days”. We are so thankful, however, that we were a part of that time in history and maybe, just maybe, the young people of today will really want to know what that time was all about and move back toward that wonderful time in history.”

    Like

  5. Tim Bryce said

    A C.M. of Atlanta, Georgia wrote…

    “Believe it or not this, “big hair” child of the 80’s, do be digging on those “cats” mentioned in today’s column.”

    Like

  6. Tim Bryce said

    An L.M. of Chicago, Illinois wrote…

    “I’ll always remember James J Durante for his “September Song.” I never knew there were other versions. Then I heard Walter Huston, and it became a tossup for best version.”

    Like

  7. Tim Bryce said

    An M.B. of Clearwater, Florida wrote…

    “You left out my favorite male singer of all time, though he peaked in the era between Sinatra, etc. and the more recent Michael Buble. IMO, Johnny Mathis has the best male voice I’ve ever heard, and like Tony Bennet, he’s still on tour at an advanced age. He smoked too and maybe still does. I can’t imagine why they do that. It’s the young ones who should know better that amaze me. For example, Bono smokes, and it will ruin that beautiful voice of his one day.”

    Like

  8. Tim Bryce said

    A C.H. of Oldsmar, Florida wrote…

    “TIM, that was great. Nostalgic and nice to re-live if only for a few minutes. I sorely miss them all. “

    Like

  9. Tim Bryce said

    A J.S. of Skidway Lake, Michigan wrote…

    “These crooners were unique as a group and individually. Talent like theirs can’t be forgotten. Hearing their music brings back memories now. I think their legacy will continue, judging by my son. He’s laid claim to my extensive record collection and loves watching classic movies. Hopefully, there are others like him who cherish tradition.”

    Like

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