I came up with the title of this piece — and the picture — by borrowing from one of Hugo Winterhalter’s best albums because I thought it was pretty descriptive of the talented musical director, who flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. The idea of The Two Sides Of Winterhalter (now out of stock) was that he covered both classical and contemporary music. But like Mantovani, Kostelanetz, and several others of the era, Winterhalter was comfortable with just about every type of music.
A native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Winterhalter had a classical music education that not only led to him being a skilled instrumentalist, but also enabled him to begin a career as a music teacher. But within a few years he decided to try his hand in the professional arena, and beginning in the mid-1930s he spent time with some of the biggest bands around, including those of Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie. As the years passed he moved away from just occupying a chair in the bands and became much more involved in arranging music, and occasionally even conducted groups of musicians backing singers like Dinah Shore in the recording studio.
By the post-war years, Winterhalter was on top of his game, serving as MGM’s musical director and then moving on to RCA Records, where he was fully involved in every aspect of the business, including not only composing and arranging but also conducting studio orchestras. He provided backing for vocalists like Eddie Fisher and Perry Como, and also began to hit the charts himself with instrumentals like “Blue Christmas” and specialty albums like 1952′s Great Music Themes of Television.
For the next two decades he spun out hit after hit — his biggest was 1956′s “Canadian Sunset” (which featured composer Eddie Heywood on piano) — and also kept busy with a lot of movie music work, in addition to composing and arranging for Broadway and TV. As he got older he eventually slowed down a little, but stayed active until his death at age 64 in 1973.
Hugo Winterhalter Orchestra – “Blue Violins”
I’ve always said that I dislike the ‘one-hit wonder’ label, but a couple of things have occurred to me lately. First of all, writing about lesser-known musical artists is a big part of what the GMC is all about, and it’s almost impossible to do that without including one-hit wonders. The other thing is that when you take into consideration the fact that 99% of those striving for stardom would kill to even have a big-selling record, maybe we should be giving one-hit wonders a little more respect.
Let’s start with Cathy Carr, who had a million-seller in the 1950s with a song called “Ivory Tower.” Although Gale Storm and Otis Williams had solid hits with the same song during the same time period, it was Carr’s version that did best, climbing rapidly up the charts and peaking at number two in June of 1956.
Bronx-born Angelina Helen Catherine Cordovano began her career very early, appearing on local TV while still a child. By the early 1950s she was in her late teens and calling herself Cathy Carr, and had started to showcase her singing and dancing skills in various USO shows. She next began working as a singer with various big bands, including Sammy Kaye‘s well-regarded outfit, and before long started looking for a record deal.
Carr initially signed up with Coral, but didn’t really cause much of a ripple among the record-buying public. However, a new deal with Fraternity seemed to improve her sales, and her third platter for them was the big one. However, “Ivory Tower” would be her only hit record. Even though she continued working at it over the next decade or so, changing record companies a time or two, none of her singles came close to hit status and she eventually faded from the spotlight. She was just 52 when she died in 1988.
Cathy Carr – “I’m Gonna Change Him”
The subject of today’s Anatomy of a song is a Western classic that has had several different names during its 65 years of life. Mostly it’s been known as “Ghost Riders in the Sky” or “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” but its official ASCAP title omits the ‘Ghost’. On the other hand, it has sometimes been shortened to “Ghost Riders” or occasionally stretched out all the way to “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend.”
It was written in 1948 by Stan Jones, who was working as a park ranger in Death Valley at the time but had grown up in Arizona and spent some time as a cowboy. He even managed to make his own record of it, but the song didn’t gain any real traction until Burl Ives covered it the following year, closely followed by Vaughn Monroe, Peggy Lee and Bing Crosby (accompanied by the Ken Darby Singers, who also backed him on “White Christmas”). Spike Jones even put out a comedic version.
In later years it was recorded by singers like Frankie Laine and ensembles like the Brothers Four and the Norman Luboff Choir, along with instrumentals by the likes of the Ventures, who had a huge hit with the song. Even Elvis eventually got into the act, and of course all the usual country singers did their versions. Finally, it was also the inspiration for the Western singing group known as Riders In The Sky, formed in 1977 and still going strong.
The Ventures – “Ghost Riders In The Sky”