Heigh-ho everybody! 115 years ago today, the vagabond lover, Rudy Vallée was born. Some twenty-five years later, he would become the idol of a nation.
Hubert Prior Vallée was born in Island Pond, Vermont on July 28, 1901. At 15, he joined the navy to fight in the Great War, but was discharged after forty-one days, when his age was discovered. With his high school band, Vallée played drums, but soon took up the saxophone, playing in local bands. In the middle of the 1920s, he traveled to England, and made his first phonograph recordings with the Savoy Havana Band in London. After returning home, he was educated at the University of Maine, then at Yale, and in 1928, made his first recordings under his own name for Columbia’s budget labels, with his Yale Men. At the University of Maine, he was dubbed Rudy, after the popular saxophone player Rudy Wiedoeft, and the name stuck. After graduating, Vallée formed his Connecticut Yankees, and secured a contract with Victor records in 1929. It was around this time that his popularity skyrocketed, becoming one of the most popular personalities of the 1920s and ’30s, and making a string of hit records and motion pictures. Vallée’s feature film debut in 1929’s The Vagabond Lover had him in a starring role, and was a success. Also in ’29, he began hosting The Fleischmann Hour on NBC, staying on-the-air until 1939. The next year, he had a smash hit with the University of Maine’s “Stein Song” for Victor, and continued to rise in his fame. Attempting to list the bulk of Vallée’s popular songs would consume far too much space. With his fame however, came an ego rivaling that of Al Jolson, and Vallée was known to have a short temper.
As the Depression rolled in, Vallée remained among the most popular entertainers on radio and record, and, moving to Columbia Records in 1932, was given a special picture label in an attempt to increase sales. His association with Columbia did not last long, as he returned to Victor in 1933, first appearing on their Bluebird label, before moving back to the full-fledged Victor label. As swing began to take off, Vallée’s popularity began to wane, though he continued to make popular records. Vallée arranged for Louis Armstrong to host his radio program for the summer of 1937, making him the first African-American to host a major radio show. After the 1930s, Vallée recording sporadically on a wide variety of different record labels, none of which saw the success of his earlier works. In 1943, Victor made a hit with a reissue of Vallée’s 1931 recording of “As Time Goes By” to coincide with the release of Casablanca, as the musicians strike prevented a new recording from being made. After his popularity had faded from its 1920s heights, Vallée continued to record and appear in films, and on television, and enjoyed moderate success all the way. After a long career in the show business, Rudy Vallée died on July 3, 1986 at the age of 84.
Velvet Tone 1759-V on October 10, 1928 in New York. The Yale Men are made up of Don Moore on trumpet, Hal Matthews on trombone, Rudy Vallée on clarinet and alto sax, Joe Miller on tenor sax, Manny Lowy and Jules de Vorzon on violin, Cliff Burwell on piano, Charles Peterson on banjo, Harry Patent on tuba, and Ray Toland on drums.
First Vallée and the Yale Men play a hot side on “Doin’ the Raccoon”, referencing the popular 1920s collegiate fad for raccoon coats.
Next, Vallée sings a sweet tune on “Bye and Bye Sweetheart”.