We’ve talked about big band girl singers, so it’s only fitting that the boys should be given some time.
There were, of course, singing band leaders who did at least some of the vocals themselves–Vaughan Monroe, Eddy Howard, Woody Herman, Tex Beneke, Tony Pastor, Ray Mckinley, and others. Sometimes they were serious, sometimes novelty tunes.
Benny Goodman didn’t feature boy singers too much because he always had an outstanding girl singer. But Art Lund and Buddy Greco and Dick Haymes were with him at different times.
Speaking of Haymes, it is generally agreed that he had about the best tools of anybody. The notes just rolled out so round and smooth and, apparently, effortlessly. More about him later.
You could say that Bing Crosby was the first big band singer to really make it big as a single. Oh, he did. Records, movies, radio. His partner in the Paul Whitman Orchestra, Russ Columbo, was getting off to a good start too, but he died young.
Then came Sinatra. He got his big start with Harry James, who once told somebody, “See that kid? He’s going to be the greatest singer ever. If you don’t believe it, ask him.” But he had the talent to back his ambition.
He got along fine with James and they made some fine records. But Tommy Dorsey, for unknown reasons, fired his singer, Jack Leonard (“Marie”), and he lured Sinatra away from James. More money, and the Dorsey band was better known at that early time in the James band’s life.
But Frank later said that one of the saddest moments in his life was when he saw the James bus pull away without him.
But he started turning out hit after hit with Dor-sey, and mobs of screaming, squealing girls started showing up at every appearance.
Bob Eberly was Jimmy Dorsey’s great singer. Glenn Miller was a member of JD’s band, just before launching one of his own. Glenn, probably in jest, asked Bob if there were any more like him back home in Hoosick Falls, in upstate New York. As a matter of fact, yes, there was. Brother Ray.
So Ray went with Glenn Miller and was a very important member of the band (he’s on a third of all of GM’s records) until about three months before the band broke up. I don’t know why exactly, an accumulation of things. Maybe drinking a little, a little stardom going to his head? But the killer: late for rehearsal. With the band’s tight schedule of concerts and dances and radio programs and records, you did not be late for rehearsal.
So if you see on a record label that Skip Nelson is the singer, you know it was made in the last weeks of the civilian band. After that, Nelson went to the Casa Loma band and others.
Sinatra had always admired Bob Eberly, and was anxious to go out as a single before Bob did. Not to worry, as it turned out. Bob, along with Helen O’Connell and Jimmy Dorsey, was turning out hit after hit. Alas, he stayed too long at the fair and never made it big as a single.
Dick Haymes followed Sinatra into the James band and into the Dorsey band. Then he left and went to Hollywood where he starred in several 20th Century Fox musicals, including “State Fair.” But somewhere in there, drinking and alimony (he was married six times) got him down and his career faded.
Frank got into the movies, too. For a while, he was making one hit record after another for Columbia Records. But the partnership soured, as did his movie career and he was feeling low, mighty low.
Then he got a key part in “From Here to Eternity” and signed a contract with Capitol Records and he was back on his way to becoming Chairman of the Board.
One other thing he shared with Haymes, in addition to talent, was the ability to marry beautiful women. Haymes was married to Rita Hayworth (and Joanne Dru) and Frank was married to Ava Gardner. Neither marriage lasted very long.
More. Billy Eckstine was Earl Hines’ singer until he left and started his own band, through which passed many legendary musicians–Gene Ammons, Wardell Grey, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, and such. The girl singer was Sarah Vaughan.
Duke Ellington had Al Hibbler. Buddy Johnson had Arthur Prysock. Ted Weems had Perry Como. Count Basie had Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams. Les Brown had Ralph Young who later became half of the Sandler and Young duo But he was greatly overshadowed in the Brown band by Doris Day.
Sammy Kaye and Guy Lombardo had many fine male singers: Don Cornell, Billy Williams, Clyde Rogers, Tony Alamo, Skip Nelson again.
Zillionaire Merv Griiffin, creator of “Jeopardy,” was Freddy Martin’s boy singer. Mike Douglas was Kay Kyser’s. Tony Martin was a big band singer long before he married (gasp!) Cyd Charisse.
And “Festus” was once a singer with Tommy Dorsey. And how about that, Mr. Dillon?
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.