Yes folks, I’m writing about crooners again. It’s a subject that has always fascinated me, and my interest has resulted in a number of articles that date all the way back to my Crooner Conundrum piece from four years ago. But today’s subject — Rudy Vallée — was a different kind of crooner.
For one thing, he first rose to fame in the 1920s, much earlier than many of the more familiar crooners. (Although there were a few beginning to make their mark — Bing Crosby for one.) In addition, his thin, reedy singing voice wasn’t exactly ideal, which might explain why he was initially reluctant to step up in front of his band and sing. But he did it anyway, and the fans loved him.
Hubert Prior Vallée was born in Vermont but grew up in Maine, and after a teenage stint in the Navy during World War I (ended prematurely because he’d lied about his age) he finished high school and continued on to college for a while. Along the way he’d learned to play clarinet and sax, and he soon left school for a musical career.
By the late 1920s he was leading his own band, the Connecticut Yankees, at New York’s famed Heigh-Ho Club, where he opened shows with what would become his trademark greeting, “Heigh-Ho Everybody”. He would soon become a breakout star on radio and records, both booming at the time. He would also begin to show up in the new medium of movies with sound, bringing his music to an even wider audience.
Over the next few years he would be one of the most popular entertainers around, selling a lot of records with songs like “Marie,” “The Whiffenpoof Song,” and “Stein Song,” which later became the official song of the University of Maine. His popularity would continue throughout the 1930s and beyond, but by World War II the musical side of things had slowed a little, although Vallée did his part for the guys by leading a Coast Guard orchestra.
He continued to find film work during and after the war, although it was eventually as more of a character actor. He would continue to stay busy through the years, making a comeback of sorts in the 1960s by appearing in the Broadway hit, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He died in 1986, just short of his 85th birthday.