Isham Jones kept pretty busy in the 1920s and 1930s as the leader of a popular orchestra, but years later his legacy is more about his songwriting ability. He was the composer of a number of familiar songs, among them “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “There Is No Greater Love,” and our Anatomy of a Song subject today, “It Had to Be You.”
The year was 1924, and Jones wasted no time making a record of the song with his band, something that several others did in that same year. Among them was the orchestra led by the self-styled King of Jazz, Paul Whiteman, but it seemed to be a popular choice for many bands of the era.
The song also had words added by lyricist Gus Kahn, which opened up things for vocalists too. One of the earliest memorable performances by a singer occurred when Ruth Etting did the honors in the 1936 movie short Melody in May, but the song became a popular choice for the soundtrack of many movies, including some in later years — like Harry Connick, Jr’s version in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally. It also furnished the title for a surprising number of movies and TV shows — although not all of them included the song itself — and even a book or two.
A lot of performers have had successful records with “It Had to Be You” through the years, with a duet by Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest charting the highest — #4 — in 1944. But it has been recorded by just about every singer you can imagine, including Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Williams, and maybe one or two that would surprise you — for example, Elvis Costello and John Travolta.
Isham Jones Orchestra – “It Had to Be You”
Although there were a lot of orchestras around in the late 1920s and they were playing everything from ballroom music to dixieland, a new style was beginning to evolve. Ironically, ‘hot’ jazz became the coolest thing around, and its rising popularity soon led to the beginning of the big band era, a period that would see many bandleaders attain the kind of fame that made them the rock stars of their day. But some seemed to miss the express to big-time fame.
Luis Carl Russell was born in Panama in 1902, and as the son of a music teacher he grew up proficient on a number of instruments, including violin, guitar, trombone, and piano. He was still in his mid-teens when he first began working professionally by playing piano for silent films, but his fortunes rose when he won some money in a lottery, allowing his family to emigrate to America.
Newly relocated in New Orleans, Russell was in the perfect spot to immerse himself in a rich mix of just about every kind of music, and for several years he did just that. By the mid-1920s he’d earned his chops working as a pianist in the area and subsequently decided to move to Chicago, where he soon joined the legendary King Oliver’s band. Russell was never a virtuoso as a pianist but he fit in well with the group and gained a lot of experience along the way. When Oliver relocated to New York a couple of years later he went along, but shortly thereafter left the group to start his own band.
Over the next few years Russell was one of the biggest stars of early jazz, leading a highly-respected band and working with guys like Louis Armstrong and Red Allen, not only in clubs but also on dozens of good records. But as the 1930s got underway, Russell seemed to begin to fade from sight. Armstrong eventually took over leadership of his dynamic band, and Russell scuffled along for several years while occasionally forming short-lived groups. He resurfaced in the late 1940s to lead a band for club dates and the occasional record, but never really made much of a splash. By late in the decade he was pretty much out of music, although he played the occasional guest spots — including one appearance he made late in life in his native Panama. He died at age 61 in 1963.
Luis Russell Orchestra – “Panama”
(video removed at source)
Bandleader Art Mooney led one of the most popular orchestras around during the post-war years, but his biggest success came after he changed styles. He’d led a solid swing band for a few years, but found the magic formula to widespread popularity when he changed to a feel-good type of music, one that featured sweet and familiar tunes and often included audience-pleasing singalongs. His band subsequently scored several Top Ten hits, topped by “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” which hit #1 in 1948.
Mooney was born in either Lowell, MA, or Brooklyn, NY — sources vary — but in any case he learned to play sax while growing up, and by the early 1930s had embarked on a professional music career. He spent some time as a member of various forgettable outfits and by late in the decade had become the leader of his own band, finding mixed success in the years leading up to World War II.
After his war-time service Mooney put together a first-class swing band, one that featured solid arrangements and some future stars, including — at one time or another — Dean Martin, Fran Warren, the Ames Brothers, and even Sid Caesar, who was a talented saxophonist in his early days. But Mooney and his band didn’t really click in a big way until he took a new road that led to the sounds of the past. He soon began spinning out hit records on songs like the chart-topping “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” along with “Baby Face,” and “Bluebird of Happiness.”
Mooney continued to find success into the next decade, with Top Ten hits on “Babe” and “Honey-Babe,” followed by another #1 hit with “Nuttin’ For Christmas” in 1955, but things began to slow after that. His band continued to enjoy a lot of popularity by adapting its music in an attempt to keep with the latest, including country and rock and roll. But even though the group continued recording for the next decade or so, it gradually wound down and mostly became a nightclub band. Mooney later owned a restaurant for a while and also spent some time leading the late Guy Lombardo’s orchestra, but eventually retired. He died in 1993 at age 82.
Art Mooney Orchestra – “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”