I like Frank Crumit. He was a consummate vaudevillian with a pleasant voice and proficient with all manner of stringed instruments—and he made great music. His favorite food was gravy. So it seems only appropriate that Old Time Blues pay tribute to him and his distinguished body of work sooner or later.
Crumit was born on September 26, 1889 in Jackson, Ohio, son of Mary and Frank, Sr. He made his stage debut in a minstrel show at only five years old. He received a degree in electrical engineering from Ohio University, but left that career behind when in 1912, the opportunity of becoming a singer with Paul Biese’s orchestra presented itself. Before long, Crumit struck out as a vaudeville star of his own, billed as the “One-Man Glee Club”. Throughout the 1910s and ’20s, he starred in musical shows like Betty, Be Good, Greenwich Village Follies of 1920, and Tangerine. Working on Tangerine, he met Julia Sanderson, who was starring in the show, and (though both were married) it was love at first sight. The two later divorced their respective spouses and married in 1927. Crumit made his first recording for the Columbia Phonograph Company in December of 1919, “My Gal”, appearing on the reverse of Al Jolson’s “Swanee” (Columbia A2884). He remained with Columbia until 1923, when he switched to Victor, with whom he stayed until moving to Decca in 1934. Among his plentiful song successes were “A Gay Caballero”, “The Song of the Prune”, “Abdul Abulbul Amir”, and “I Married the Bootlegger’s Daughter”. As radio became the nation’s favorite form of entertainment, Crumit’s recording career took a backseat as he and wife Sanderson ascended to radio stardom as “the ideal couple of the air.” As record sales dragged during the Great Depression, the Crumits remained one of the most popular acts on the air, hosting such programs as the Blackstone Plantation and the quiz show The Battle of the Sexes. Frank Crumit died suddenly of a heart attack on September 7, 1943, one day after what was to be his final radio show was broadcast.
Victor 20715 was recorded on May 11 and April 8, 1927, respectively, in New York City. It was released in August of ’27, and, like a number of Crumit’s records, remained in the catalog until 1944. On the “A” side, Crumit is accompanied by Andy Sannella on clarinet and Nat Shilkret on piano. Crumit accompanies himself on guitar on both sides (this is unconfirmed by the DAHR for the second side, but seems most likely).
First, Crumit does a fabulous take on the folk song “Frankie and Johnnie”, with a hot little ensemble accompanying. This is my personal favorite version of the song, surpassing even Jimmie Rodgers’ famous rendition. Outstanding performance.
Next, Crumit sings one of his more famous tunes, and another of my favorites, the 1877 music hall song “Abdul Abulbul Amir”. This song’s success inspired Crumit to follow up with “The Return of Abdul Abulbul Amir” and “The Grandson of Abdul Abulbul Amir”. The song’s popularity persisted into the 1940s, and in 1941, Crumit wrote revised lyrics for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon Abdul the Bulbul-Ameer.