Brunswick 6162 – Connie Boswell – 1931

We’ve celebrated the anniversary of the incomparable Miss Connie Boswell’s birth several times before here on Old Time Blues, but this time around it’s particularly significant, for it’s her 110th birthday.  Likewise, this is a particularly significant record for the occasion: Connie’s first solo record (excepting her early 1925 straggler).

Connie Boswell around 1932.

Connie was born Constance Foore Boswell—taking her middle name from her mother’s maiden name—in Kansas City, Missouri on December 3, 1907, the third of the Boswell children, and the middle Boswell sister.  They relocated to Birmingham when Connie was about three years old, and it was there where she suffered the incident that would leave her crippled, most likely by a bout of infantile paralysis, though her mother claimed it was the result of an accident involving a toy wagon.  In any event, she was left completely incapacitated, yet in spite of adversity, Connie recovered, even being able to stand up and walk after a fashion for a time, though she would later rely on a wheelchair.  Soon after the accident, the Boswells packed up and moved to New Orleans, where the children were exposed to—and became a part of—the genesis of jazz.

The three Boswell Sisters became a popular musical act around town, singing harmony and playing instruments; when the Victor Talking Machine Company made their first field trip to Houston and New Orleans, the Boswells made their first record.  Several years later, after some setbacks, the trio left for Chicago to embark on a vaudeville tour.  Eventually, they wound up in California, where they settled for a time in Los Angeles and became popular radio personalities.  Then a young hotel clerk they’d met and befriended in a seedy joint in San Francisco—Harry Leedy—came to visit and convinced them to take him on as their manager, and later Connie’s husband.  He succeeded in getting them a contract with Brunswick, and they traveled to New York to make records.  But in spite of his successful management of the trio, Leedy believed that Connie was the only sister with a lick of talent, and that the other two were essentially superfluous.  He pushed for Connie to do more solo work, which she did, and he positioned her to take more leading vocals on the Sisters’ records.  Ultimately, it’s likely that Leedy contributed considerably to the tensions that resulted in the Boswell Sisters 1936 breakup.

After the disintegration of the trio, Connie’s career fell into a bit of a slump, but her runaway swing hit of von Flotow’s “Martha” brought fast to the spotlight.  Throughout the remainder of the 1930s, and into the ’40s, she remained one of the most popular singers in the nation, duetting frequently with Bing Crosby.  She made a number of noteworthy film appearances in It’s All Yours and Artists and Models in 1937, the latter which saw her sing the Academy award nominated “Whispers in the Dark”, Kiss the Boys Goodbye in 1941, Syncopation in 1942, and Swing Parade of 1946.  Around 1942, she altered the spelling of her name to “Connee”, stating that it was easier to sign, but also possibly due to numerological reasons recommended by her sister Martha.  In the years following the Second World War, Connee Boswell’s career began to slow down, and she took a hiatus from her long time association with Decca Records in 1946.  The following year, she made two records for Apollo, and then quieted down for a five year stretch.  In 1952, Connee made a triumphant return to Decca, accompanied by Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five, but her voice was beginning to sound noticeably hoarse in her mid-forties.  Nonetheless, she continued making records and television appearances on programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show through the decade, concluding with her final album in 1958.  Also in ’58, she made an appearance in the movie Senior Prom, and took a recurring role as “Savannah Brown” in the television adaptation of Pete Kelly’s Blues.  Slowing down in the 1960s, Connee made two rock ‘n’ roll-esque 45s for the Charles label in 1962, her last commercial records.  After a fairly quiet decade, Connee Boswell died of stomach cancer on October 12, 1976.

Brunswick 6162 was recorded around July 27, 1931 in New York City.  Connie Boswell is accompanied more-or-less by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, consisting of Manny Klein on trumpet, on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, Harry Hoffman on violin, sister Martha Boswell on piano, Dick McDonough on guitar, Joe Tarto on string bass, and Chauncey Morehouse on drums and vibraphone.

First, Connie sings an upbeat composition by the Harries Tobias and Barris, “What is It?”, with a little swinging going on in the background.

What is It?, recorded July 27, 1931 by Connie Boswell.

Next, Connie sings the lovely “I’m All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart”, a song which, much like Russ Columbo’s “You Call it Madness”, is truly evocative of its era.

I’m All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart, recorded July 27, 1931 by Connie Boswell.

Conqueror 8183 – Dick Powell – 1933

Dick Powell as pictured in Stars of Radio and Things You Would Like to Know About Them.

A star of stage, screen, radio, and records, the 1930s would have been unquestionably more depressing without Dick Powell as a leading man.

Richard Ewing Powell was born on November 14, 1904 in Mountain View, Arkansas.  He began singing as a child, and started out in choirs and local bands.  Soon he got his big break as a vocalist with Myron Schultz’s Midwestern territory band, the Royal Peacock Orchestra.  Not long after arriving in Indianapolis, he joined Charlie Davis’ orchestra.  In 1927, Powell made his first records: “Beautiful” and “Is She My Girl Friend? (How-de-ow-dow)” for Vocalion.  Finding success as a a master of ceremonies, he later relocated to Pittsburgh, and then off to Hollywood.  When Warner Bros. bought out Brunswick Records—the parent company of Vocalion—in 1930, they offered him a motion picture contract.  Thus, he began his ascent to stardom, as a “boy tenor” in musical pictures in the 1930s, then as a hard-boiled tough guy in film noir in the 1940s.  He found early success paired with Ruby Keeler in a string of  musicals: 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade, Dames, and Flirtation Walk, most of which were choreographed by Busby Berkeley.  Later, he went on to portray Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet.  The aforementioned six titles account for only a small fraction of his extensive career in films.  In 1936, Powell married frequent co-star Joan Blondell, and later married June Allyson in 1945.  When television came around, Powell got in on it; he hosted Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre and The Dick Powell Show, respectively, from 1956 to 1963.  Dick Powell died of cancer on January 2, 1963, speculated to have been the result of radioactivity from nuclear testing near the set of the Howard Hughes film The Conqueror in 1956.

Conqueror 8183 was recorded on May 25, 1933 in New York City.  According to Rust, Powell’s accompaniment includes Bunny Berigan, Mannie Klein, Charlie Margulis on trumpet, Russ Morgan or Charlie Butterfield on trombone, Chester Hazlett on clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto sax, and Larry Binyon on tenor sax and flute, among others.  Both tunes are hits from one of my favorite movies, the 1933 (if that much doesn’t go without saying) Warner Bros. musical Gold Diggers of 1933, in which Powell starred.

First, Powell sings a bubbly rendition of “Pettin’ in the Park”, complete with sound effects.

Pettin' In the Park

Pettin’ In the Park, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

On the flip, he sings Gold Diggers’ big hit: the “Shadow Waltz”.

Shadow Waltz

Shadow Waltz, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

Brunswick 6049 – Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours – 1931

Nick Lucas, as pictured on the cover of The Mastertone Guitar Method.

August 23 marks the anniversary of the birth of the “Crooning Troubadour” Nick Lucas—sometimes called the “grandfather of jazz guitar”—whose tenor crooned charmed millions spanning more than one generation.

Nick Lucas was born Dominic Nicholas Anthony Lucanese in Newark, New Jersey on August 22, 1897.  Lucas played banjo with various dance bands in the early 1920s, and in June of 1922, made his debut recordings for Pathé with “Picking the Guitar” and “Teasin’ the Frets”, both guitar solos.  He re-recorded both sides for Brunswick the next year (and again in 1932, electrically).  Before long, he was making vocal records for Brunswick as “the Crooning Troubadour,” with his pleasing tenor croon accompanied by his own guitar, sometimes with a piano or orchestra.  In 1929, Lucas appeared in the talking picture Gold Diggers of Broadway, introducing “Tip-Toe Thru The Tulips with Me”, which he also made a hit on record.  In 1930 and ’30, he recorded with his own band, the “Crooning Troubadours”, and the following year made some recordings for Hit of the Week.  Lucas’ fame faded in the 1930s, as swing became king, but he continued to perform.  In the 1940s he made a few Soundies, followed by some Snader Telescriptions in 1951.  Lucas experienced a resurgence in popularity many years later.  He appeared on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1969, for the televised wedding of Tiny Tim—a devotee of his—who had re-popularized “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips”.  In 1974, he performed several songs for the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby.  After enjoying a career that spanned a great deal longer than half a century, Nick Lucas died of pneumonia in 1982.

Brunswick 6049 was recorded in New York on February 6 and January 31, 1931, respectively.  I respectfully disagree with Brian Rust’s assertion that “vocal records by this artist are of no interest as jazz,” as these two are quite jazzy, but as such, I am unable to provide a list of personnel for Lucas’ Crooning Troubadours.  The band is likely made up of Brunswick studio men.

First, Lucas croons the pop tune “Running Between the Rain-drops”.

Running Between the Raindrops

Running Between the Rain-drops, recorded February 6, 1931 by Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours.

Next, he sings one of my favorites, “Hello! Beautiful”, a tune commonly associated with Maurice Chevalier.

Hello! Beautiful!

Hello! Beautiful!, recorded January 31, 1931 by Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours.

Hit of the Week L 3 – Gene Austin and Hit of the Week Orchestra – 1931

The original sleeve of this Hit of the Week.

The original sleeve of this Hit of the Week.

Thanks to the release of the free version of Brian Rust’s Jazz Records 1917-1934, I found myself preoccupied yesterday, and neglected to post in honor of Gene Austin’s birthday, so I’ll have to offer this a little belatedly.

Gene Austin was born Lemuel Eugene Lucas in Gainesville, Texas on June 24, 1900.  He grew up in Minden, Louisiana, and learned to play guitar and piano before leaving home at fifteen to join a vaudeville troupe in Houston, Texas.  When he got on stage, his voice wooed the audience so that he was offered a job on the spot.  In 1917, he joined the Army to fight in the War and wound up in New Orleans, playing piano in Storyville before shipping off.  When he got back home, he planned to become a dentist, but ended up going back to vaudeville.  Austin first began recording with country musician George Reneau, the “Blind Musician of the Smoky Mountains” for Vocalion and Edison, singing and playing piano, and soon switched to Victor.  With the advent of electrical recording, Gene Austin was among the first singers to exploit the more sensitive technique as a “crooner”.  His 1927 recording of “My Blue Heaven” was one the best selling and most popular records of the decade.  As the ominous clouds of the Great Depression rolled in, Austin was relegated to the budget labels, and as swing became prominent, his style soon began to sound dated.  In the mid-1930s, he began appearing in minor roles in motion pictures.  Austin continue to sing professionally for many years after falling from the spotlight, and in 1964, ran for governor of Nevada.  Besides his singing, Gene Austin was also a songwriter, and originated such standards as “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street”, “How Come You Do Me Like You Do?”, and “The Lonesome Road”.  Austin died January 24, 1972 at the age of 71.

Hit of the Week L 3 was recorded in October of 1931 in New York, and released at the newsstands on November 19, 1931.  It was Gene Austin’s only Hit of the Week release.  These Hit of the Week records were pressed in coated paper and sold for fifteen cents at newsstands.  We previously heard Duke Ellington’s band on one of these unusual flexible discs.  As part of the latter half of Hit of the Week’s releases, this disc has narrower grooves to accommodate a five minute recording on one side.

On this single sided cardboard record, Gene Austin croons “Now That You’re Gone”.  The second tune, “La Paloma” is an instrumental by the Hit of the Week Orchestra.

Now That You're Gone

Now That You’re Gone, recorded October 1931 by Gene Austin and Hit of the Week Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on May 11, 2017.

Brunswick 6472 – Bing Crosby with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians – 1933

Guy Lombardo. From 1932 P&G publication.

Guy Lombardo. From 1932 P&G publication.

Today we honor the consummate bandleader Guy Lombardo, whose Royal Canadians were a staple on records and radio for many decades—and who better to help celebrate the occasion than old Der Bingle?

Gaetano Alberto Lombardo was born in London, Ontario on June 19, 1902.  His father had each of his children learn to play different instruments so they could accompany his singing.  The Lombardo brothers put their first orchestra together when they were still children, and they first played in public in 1914.  Ten years later, Guy Lombardo and his Orchestra made their first recordings for the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, released on the Gennett label.  After Gennett, the Royal Canadians recorded briefly for Brunswick, which yielded two issued sides on Vocalion in 1927, and then with Columbia, with whom he stayed until 1931.  Following his engagement with Columbia, he took his band to Brunswick from 1932 to ’34, then to Decca, as many Brunswick artists did after former employee Jack Kapp founded the company.  The Royal Canadians switched to Victor for a period, before returning to Decca in 1938.  Lombardo’s was perhaps most famous for his New Years Eve shows, which began at the Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, and continued until after his death, with the tradition carried on by his band, despite competition from Dick Clark.  Though Lombardo’s “sweet” style of music was derided by many jazz fans who preferred their music served hot, he was reportedly hailed by the likes of both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.  Guy Lombardo died of a heart attack on November 5, 1977.

Brunswick 6472 was recorded January 12, 1933 in New York City by Bing Crosby accompanied by Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians.  Both songs originate from the 1933 musical film 42nd Street.

First, Bing croons “Young and Healthy”, with Lombardo’s Royal Canadians in fine form.

Young and Healthy

Young and Healthy, recorded January 12, 1933 by Bing Crosby with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

On the flip-side, Lombardo takes top billing on “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me”.

You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me

You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me, recorded Janury 12, 1933 by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians with Bing Crosby.