Before you read this article, see if you can match the big band with the theme song used by each of them in the box at right.
I will say a few things about each of the bands and about their theme songs. To listen to some of the theme songs, go to www.hdnews.net/generations/ and click on the links in this article. I am sure they will sound familiar to you and bring back lots of memories.
Hal Kemp's band was one of the leading dance bands in the 1920s. It's interesting that the tune "Got A Date With An Angel" was one of his most popular numbers and became the theme song of the Skinnay Ennis band. Kemp's band took "When Summer Is Gone" to be his signature tune, probably because it was his own composition. He recorded it as a foxtrot in 1929.
Eddy Duchin played piano, and his band enjoyed much success for two decades beginning when he formed his band in 1931. You might remember from a former article that some of the theme songs began as classical music. Duchin's theme is one of them, adapted from Chopin's Nocturne in E-Flat that he titled "My Twilight Dream."
Clyde McCoy was a trumpeter and often played it as a muted trumpet, complete with unusual sounds of growls, slurs and kissing sounds. His band had been called one of the "corniest" of them all. His theme song was "Sugar Blues," a tune still heard today occasionally. He provided some good Dixieland in later years.
Art Kassel's band was popular in Chicago and on the West Coast well into the 1960s. He played in a variety of bands, including his own, as far back as in the 1920s. His theme song is the zany "Hells Bells."
Russ Morgan had an unusual background before becoming a bandleader, having worked in coal mines, then arranging music for Victor Herbert and John Philip Sousa, Louis Armstrong, Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson and the Dorsey brothers. Then in 1934, he formed his own band. His theme song, "Does Your Heart Beat For Me?" was played after being introduced as "Music In The Morgan Manner."
Orrin Tucker's band was popular in the late 1930s and after World War II. His best-remembered offering was "Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny Oh' sung by Wee Bonnie Baker. His theme song, "Drifting and Dreaming" was played in the South Seas mood.
Shep Field's band was referred to by some as directed by a "Mickey Mouse" leader. His "Rippling Rhythym" became popular beginning in 1936. Despite his "Mickey Mouse" tag, he "could swing with the best of them." His trademark was created by blowing a straw in a glass of water accompanied by the tinkling piano and accordian arpeffios.
Henry King's band was not one of the better-known groups. He specialized in "tasteful arrangements with quite a few Latin-American numbers." King's band was featured on the George Burns and Gracie Allen show in 1936-37. According to David Lennick, who put together 42 big band themes and a short history of each for Intersound on a CD collection, King's theme, "A Blues Serenade" had such a complex melody that even Bing Crosby had difficulty with it.
Skinnay Ellis spent more than a decade drumming and singing with Kemp before forming his own band in 1938. Between 1938 and 1946, Ellis's band showcased Bob Hope's radio show and the Abbott and Costello program.
Guy Lombardo had one of the most commercially successful dance bands of all time. He and his brothers formed their band in the 1920s in their home town of London, Ontario. When they were sponsored by Robert Burns Panatella Cigars, the traditional Scottish New Year's tune, "Auld Lang Syne" was set to poetry by Robert Burns and was adopted by Lombardo. Lombardo and New Year's Eve became synonymous shortly thereafter.
Dick Jurgen's hotel-playing band was considered to be a "sweet" band. Vocalist Eddy Howard, who later became a successful band leader and vocalist, was with Jurgens from 1934 to1940. Jurgens' theme song was "Day Dreams Come True at Night" following the phrase, "Here's That Band Again."
Xavier Cugat was known largely because he played mostly Latin-American tunes. He played violin, seriously studied music in Berlin and played in Carnegie Hall before turning to dance music. By 1934, his band and the haunting theme "My Shawl" reached the top.
Kay Kaiser, one of the only bandleaders who played no instrument at all, formed his first band at the University of North Carolina. He was the "genial professor of the "Kollege of Musical Knowledge." It was this band who became famous for "Three Little Fishes" and whose theme song was "Thinking of You."
Vincent Lopez began his programs with "Hello everybody, Lopez speaking." He was considered to be "one of the most durable bandleaders in the business," lasting for a number of years. He was first on radio in 1921 and even in the late 1960s, you could dance to his theme song, "Nola," at the Taft Hotel.
Wouldn't it be nice to be able to simply turn on the radio and hear this music again? Thank Goodness for CDs.
My thanks to David Lennick and Intersound for much of the above information.
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.