On January 7, 1898, Albert Allick Bowlly, better known as Al, was born in Mozambique. He spent his childhood in South Africa, where he found his first work as a singer with Edgar Adeler’s band, which was touring Africa. After a falling out with Adeler in Indonesia, he sang with a number of bands in the Orient, before making his way back to the West. In 1927, Bowlly made his recording debut, again with Adeler. He first came to London to sing with Fred Elizalde’s Music, with whom he recorded an excellent rendition of “If I Had You” in 1929. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Bowlly sang with a number of British dance bands, inluding those of Roy Fox, Lew Stone, and Roy Noble, whose association with Bowlly is perhaps the best remembered today. In 1934, Bowlly came to the United States with Noble’s orchestra before returning to England in 1937. On April 17, 1941, Bowlly died tragically in the Blitz, not from a bomb, but from a door blown off its hinges from the explosion, which struck him in the head.
Victor 25094 was recorded June 8 and 10, 1935 in New York City, featuring Roy Noble’s Orchestra with a vocal refrain by Al Bowlly and the Freshman, singing two Irving Berlin hits from the 1935 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers picture Top Hat. I had the great fortune of screening Top Hat at the historic Texas Theatre in Dallas, in a special presentation put on by the local Art Deco Society, followed by a concert by Matt Tolentino’s Singapore Slingers. Quite a fun time.
In the film, Astaire danced solo to “Top Hat” (White Tie and Tails), and Noble and Bowlly do great with the song here.
PIccolino” was probably the most publicized tune from the movie and touted as the “big hit” in 1935, though today the most remembered song is likely “Cheek to Cheek”.