The King of Jazz Returns

The musical was a popular genre in the very early days of talkies, but the moviegoing public quickly (if briefly) lost interest in singing pictures.

One movie that fell victim to that disinterest was King of Jazz (1930), a lavish musical-comedy revue that featured Paul Whiteman‘s orchestra delivering an assortment of musical numbers with comedic sketches interspersed throughout.

King of Jazz, made for Universal Pictures, was filmed entirely in an early, two-color version of Technicolor and featured actors and performers such as the Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker and Harry Barris, don’t you know), John Boles, Laura La Plante, Slim Summerville, Walter Brennan, jazz legends Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, and the Russell Markert Dancers (who would soon become the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes).

King of Jazz was not a money-maker, and a revamped version released a few years later did no better, so it might well have fallen into obscurity and been forgotten, but over the decades, interest in the film increased. In 2013, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, and in 2018, a spectacular restoration of the film was screened in a few locations across the country and around the world.

We were present for the restoration’s premiere in New York City, and it proved to be a terribly exciting event. The buzz in the theatre was palpable and the film, which had been beautifully restored, received cheers from the packed house throughout the screening.

We’re pleased to share the exciting news that Turner Classic Movies is airing this acclaimed restoration on Monday, March 4, at 8 p.m. ET. If you listen to Cladrite Radio with any regularity, this one’s right up your alley. We’re calling it a don’t-miss.

To give you an idea what to expect, here’s a clip from the film of a performance of George Gershwin‘s Rhapsody in Blue.

10 Things You Should Know About Mildred Bailey

Here are 10 things you should know about the great Mildred Bailey, born 119 years ago today. Hugely popular in the 1930s, she was an important link between early jazz performers such as Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith and iconic singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

Be sure to tune into Cladrite Radio today, where we’ll be paying tribute to Mildred Bailey all day long.

Happy 114th Birthday, Bing Crosby!

Crooner-actor-comedian-show biz immortal Bing Crosby was born Harry Lillis Crosby was born 114 years ago today (or thereabouts—there’s some debate about the actual date, though the date now most widely agreed upon is May 3) in Tacoma, Washington. Here are 10 BC Did-You-Knows:

  • A true middle child, Crosby was the fourth of seven children. His father, a bookkeeper, was of English descent and his mother was a second-generation Irish-American. The family relocated to Spokane, Washington, when Crosby was three. When Crosby was seven, a neighbor, inspired by the Bingville Bugle, a popular humor feature in the Sunday edition of Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper, nicknamed him “Bingo from Bingville.” The name stuck (though the -o was soon dropped).
  • Crosby attended Gonzaga University for three years, playing on the school’s baseball team as a freshman. He never graduated, but in 1937, the university gave him the benefit of the doubt, awarding him an honorary degree.
  • At 20, Crosby was asked to join a group of younger musicians in forming a combo called the Musicaladers (as to how that name was pronounced, your guess is as good as ours). One of the members of that group was Al Rinker, brother to Mildred Bailey, who would go on to great success as a jazz and swing vocalist.
  • In 1925, Crosby and Rinker headed for Los Angeles, where Bailey’s show-biz contacts helped them find work. They were eventually hired by the star-making orchestra leader Paul Whiteman. During a stint in New York City, the pair’s prospects were bolstered by the addition of pianist and songwriter Harry Barris. They became known as the Rhythm Boys and their collective star was on the ascent.
  • Extensive touring with the Whiteman organization allowed the Rhythm Boys to hone their skills and they became stars in their own right, with Bing being singled out for solo work on record and over the radio airwaves. They soon left the Whiteman group and signed on with Gus Arnheim, whose orchestra was featured nightly at the Cocoanut Grove night club at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel.
  • Bing Crosby was increasingly the focus of the act and he eventually made the logical move toward being a solo performer. Both his recordings and his radio program became huge successes. Crosby performed on 10 of the most popular 50 recordings of 1931. He began in films making shorts for Mack Sennett and his first feature-length picture, The Big Broadcast (1932), made him all the more successful. He would be a top recording, radio and motion picture star throughout the 1930s and ’40s and in the 1950s, he conquered television, too.
  • From the 1940s to the 1960s, Crosby was a minority owner (15%) of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
  • Crosby was the first choice to portray Lieutenant Columbo on the popular television series Columbo. After Crosby declined, he role eventually went to Peter Falk.
  • It could be said that, as Elvis Presley was to rock ‘n’ roll, Crosby was to jazz. He was one of the first—and certainly the most popular—white vocalists to embrace the new form of music. Jazz legend Louis Armstrong was an admirer of Crosby, describing his voice as being “like gold being poured out of a cup.”
  • Crosby notched 38 No. 1 singles over the course of his career, topping even Presley and the Beatles in the category.

Happy birthday, Bing Crosby, wherever you may be!

Bing Crosby

Snapshot in Prose: Mildred Bailey

Regular listeners to Cladrite Radio know we’re big fans of Mildred Bailey. She’s perhaps not as well remembered today as some of her contemporaries, but fans of the music of the 1920s and ’30s know her well, and her versatile vocal stylings clearly proved an inspiration to songbirds who followed her, including Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

Bailey was married three times—her third husband, who proved to be a charm only professionally, was vibraphonist Red Norvo. Though their marriage didn’t last, the two recorded together from the mid-’30s through 1945. Bailey, who had health issues throughout her adult life, struggling with weight gain and diabetes, died far too young—at age 44—in 1951.

Read to the end of this profile, first published in 1935, and you’ll find a couple of our favorites Mildred Bailey recordings for your consideration. We’re confident that, if you’re not already a fan, you will be after hearing these recordings..

WHEN Mildred Bailey ran away from a convent and got a job playing piano in a synagogue, anyone might have guessed that this young lady would never lead a dull life.
Mildred, whose real name is Rinker, is the daughter of a mother who was famous in and around Spokane for her lullabies. Her brother, Al, was a member of Paul Whiteman‘s original Rhythm Boys, the other two members of this famous trio being Harry Barris, pianist-composer, and Bing Crosby.
Another brother, Miles, played saxophone in the college band at the University of Illinois and brother Charles (Chuck) Rinker played the guitar and sang his way through the University of California and later was vocalist with several big orchestras. He is now one of Tin-Pan Alley’s best known song pluggers.
So you see, Mildred’s talent was largely a family characteristic. She first demonstrated her vocal ability and precociousness when, at the age of six, she sang a hot tune at a church benefit, much to her mother’s annoyance. Her first money job was playing piano in a motion picture theatre at the age 16.
She went to work for a music shop in Spokane, playing the piano and singing over songs for prospective purchasers of sheet music and when she went to Seattle to visit an aunt, she looked for something similar to do there. She found it, behind the music counter of a five and ten cent store, demonstrating popular songs. While working there a night club operator from Vancouver, British Columbia, came along, heard her singing and playing and offered her a professional engagement before an audience as an entertainer.
“So you see,” she explains, “it is largely a matter of getting the breaks. If that night club owner hadn’t come along I might still be hanging a piano and singing my head off for 25 center a copy for the store and an altogether too small salary to keep myself in perfume and jewelry, my two greatest extravagance.
“I think there are probably quite a few girls behind the music counters today who would have a real chance to make good if given the opportunity of appearing professionally somewhere. This is one possible source of talent which seems to have been entirely overlooked by the sharp eyes of the talent scouts for motion picture companies and broadcasting stations.”
Before long, “Rink,” as Mildred has been nicknamed by her friends, went to Los Angeles and joined a Fanchon and Marco stage unit show. These units of entertainment appeared in principal theatres on the West Coast and, in recent years, have travelled throughout the nation. After a number of tours for Fanchon and Marco she began making short featurettes for Vitaphone and thus realized a childhood ambition to become a movie actress.
Now it must be mentioned that in those early days of her professional stage and movie career, she was a petite little thing, weighing only about 100 pounds, for all of her five feet and four inches of height. Perhaps this will sound strange to you who only know her as a radio star as she is today—a fat, jolly singer of spirituals and hot rhythm songs weighing around 190 pounds.
But first let us tell you that it was Paul Whiteman who discovered Mildred Bailey when he went to Los Angeles to make his first movie, “The King of Jazz,” for Universal Pictures. Her unique singing style matched the rhythm of Whiteman’s music and he engaged her to sing with his band as the featured feminine vocalist.

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Snapshot in Prose: Bing Crosby

What a career Bing Crosby had. Is there anyone in popular culture who got his start in the 1920s who is as well remembered today as Der Bingle?

Perhaps Louis Armstrong.

Many folks 55 years old and younger will recall only the more sedate, older Bing, he of the briarwood pipes, stingy-brimmed fedoras, and cardigan sweaters.

But in his early years, Bing was like Elvis Presley—a white man singing music inspired and influenced by the music of the African-American community.

He also was something of a wild man off-stage, as he is said to have had, in those days, a penchant for going on alcohol-fueled tears.

By the time this profile was published in December 1935, Bing was long since a huge star, having conquered vaudeville, recordings, radio and movies. He had much great success still to come, but it’s interesting to consider this early look back at his rise to stardom.

Bing Crosby will tell you that he is the laziest man in the United States, but it is doubtful if a more ambitious and energetic person ever fought his way to the pinnacles of success.
A lazy man would have been content to do one thing. Bing, however, achieve his fame by doing well in half a dozen diversified fields of endeavor.
As a youngster, he was a star athlete. Growing up, he made himself an expert musician and a polished orchestra leader. Later came his success as a crooner and as the greatest entertainer in the history of the ether waves.
He followed this triumph with a thrilling and novel courtship of the sweet and beautiful cinema queen, Dixie Lee. Shortly afterwards, he became the first legitimate radio performer to make a permanent place in motion pictures. Finally, where an ordinary father would have been content with a single son, or even a daughter, Bing proceeded to have twin boys.
When the sun disappeared from view on May 2, 1904, a brand-new son brightened the home of the Crosby family in Tacoma, Washington. This newcomer, who is also the hero of our tale, was given the rather pretentious name of Harry Lillis Crosby, Jr. Papa Crosby had to do an awful lot of pickle manufacturing to provide for his seven young ones, so he took the whole caravan to Spokane, where business opportunities seemed brighter.
It was in Spokane that the resounding, vocal “Bing!” Bing!” which accompanied the waving of young Harry’s hand-made gun in a game of “cops and robbers,” earned for him the nickname that clings to him to this day.
As a boy Bing had no chance to get the habit of being lazy, what with splitting kindling, shoveling snow, mowing lawns, running errands, selling papers, and going to school. He did, however, manage to find time for athletics.
He had found visions of himself decked out in a grand uniform and playing shortstop for one of the big league teams. One day, when he was about twelve, he entered every event in a neighborhood swimming meet and wound up with nine first place medal, and two seconds.
Bing received his baptism of grease paint while attending Gonzaga High School in Spokane. One night, playing a dead Caesar, he turned a tragedy into a comedy by leaping upstage to dodge the falling curtain. After school he worked in the prop department of a local theatre, and broadened his knowledge of life behind the footlights.
Finding that he still had a few minutes of leisure each day, Bing began to deal out punishment to the drums in the school orchestra. The summer that he was sixteen he became a lumberjack in a relative’s logging camp, and in this capacity did more damage to his own person than he did to the forest. Bad cuts above each knee forced him to retire.
That fall he entered Gonzaga University with the idea of becoming a lawyer, but football, baseball and the glee club received most of his attention and efforts. The average person would have found it hard to keep up with such a schedule.
Together with a classmate, he organized a seven-piece band that was soon a necessary part of all the college parties. Bing played the traps and sang the vocals. The manager of a vaudeville house heard the band, liked it and engaged it for an indefinite engagement at his theatre.
This settled, once and for all, the profession Bing was going to follow. He and Al Rinker, his school chum, went to Los Angeles, where Rinker’s sister, Mildred Bailey, secured them employment in the Tent Café. After that they toured the Pacific Coast in vaudeville.
Back in Los Angeles at the Metropolitan Theatre, they sang one night for an audience that included Paul Whiteman. They did so well that the portly maestro signed them immediately. He took the young vocalists East, where an addition to their party made them the famous “Rhythm Boys.”
In three years with Whiteman their voices became known from coast to coast. In 1930 the trio was signed to sing at the Cocoanut Grove. It was here that Crosby began to make a name for himself as a soloist. He made records which became best-sellers.

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