Today, August 10th, marks the 120th birthday of one of my favorite vaudevillians, Harry Richman, so for your listening pleasure today, I present one of my favorite records of all time, one of the best of the many excellent songs by Irving Berlin, the great “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in its original iteration, performed by Richman, the song’s originator. This is about as close as you can get to an “original recording” from an age when songwriters wrote their songs and all the record companies made their own records at about the same time.
Harry Richman, born Harold Reichman on August 10, 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio, spent the bulk of the 1920s working the vaudeville circuit. In 1926, he became a hit, starring in George White’s Scandals, and by 1930 scored himself the starring role in the motion picture “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. The movie was not a huge success, due in part to Richman’s “overpowering” personality, but the movie’s titular theme song was a hit record for Richman. Richman continued to perform as usual after that, debuting in 1932 what would become his radio theme, “I Love a Parade”.
Irving Berlin first penned “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, which would later become one of his most famous compositions, in May 1927, but did not publish it until December 1929. Its lyrics tell of the at the time common occurrence of White people visiting Harlem for the jazzy atmosphere cultivated by its black residents, a Jazz Age account of a time when, as Langston Hughes put it, “the Negro was in vogue”. About fifteen years later, Berlin revised the song’s lyrics with more timely lyrics about the opulent lifestyle of Park Avenue dwellers, which are more commonly remembered today.
On Brunswick 4677, Harry Richman sings “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie” from the motion picture Puttin’ on the Ritz, accompanied on both by Earl Burtnett’s Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Orchestra. Both sides were recorded January 30, 1930 in Los Angeles, California. The Biltmore Hotel Orchestra consists of Fuzz Menge on trumpet, Fran Baker on cornet, Lank Menge on trombone, Hank and Gene Miller on clarinet and alto sax, Fred Stoddard on clarinet and tenor sax, Earl Burtnett on piano, Bill Grantham on banjo, Harry Robison on string bass, and Jess Kirkpatrick on drums.
On “A”, Richman sings, well, if you can’t figure that out yourself by now then you sure haven’t been paying much attention!
And on the flip, Richman sings his own collaborative composition, “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Chérie”.
Updated on June 24, 2016.