If you turned on your radio in the 1920s and early 1930s (or, for that matter, if you tuned into Cladrite Radio right now), you wouldn’t have to wait long before you heard the crooning of one of a handful of popular male vocalists: Chick Bullock, Scrappy Lambert, Dick Robertson and a few others.
These weren’t the biggest stars of the day—they didn’t rank up with, say, Bing Crosby or Rudy Vallée—but they were among the busiest singers for hire, performing and recording with a lengthy roster of the most popular orchestras of the day, and, depending upon which contractual restrictions they were violating at the time, often being credited under various pseudonyms.
And probably as busy as any of them was Smith Ballew, who was born 114 years ago today in Palestine, Texas. Ballew was a popular radio singer and sang on literally hundreds of records. He was so busy that he once reported for for-hire session at a recording studio in NYC with no earthly idea who he was to be singing with that day—it turned out to be Duke Ellington and his orchestra.
After this busy phase of his career, Smith Ballew became a singing cowboy in the movies, starring in 17 pictures between 1936 and 1951. He retired from Hollywood after that, moving back to the Lone Star state, where he took a position as manager in the missiles division of an aircraft company. He passed away in 1984.
Happy birthday, Mr. Ballew, and thanks for the musical memories!