Although his name might draw a blank with the younger generation, I think just about everyone else will be at least a little familiar with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. Most will recall Waring as the leader of a musical ensemble that included a lot of choral pieces, but the man who was sometimes called ‘America’s Singing Master’ was much more than that.
During a career that began in the early days in jazz, he became a star in nearly every medium — even hosting a ground-breaking TV show — and was eventually honored with a Congressional Gold Medal. Along the way, he still found time to use his shrewd business sense to help market the first modern electric blender.
Fredrick Malcolm Waring was — as you might suspect — a Pennsylvanian, and by his teen years was already showing his musical side by playing in and leading a banjo band. He continued to do so even after enrolling at Penn State University to begin what would be a lifelong relationship, one that would eventually lead to the school establishing a foundation in his name.
However, Waring was way too eager for a musical career to stick around and graduate, and by the mid-1920s he’d turned his banjo band into a full-fledged jazz orchestra, one that he had named the Pennsylvanians (even though it was eventually based in Detroit). It was enormously popular on records and radio, and eventually even appeared in stage shows and movies.
Over the next several decades, Fred Waring’s musical extravaganza continued to prosper, while gradually evolving into a softer and more commercial style. The success of the group would even lead to a pioneering one-hour TV variety show in 1949. As for Waring himself, his sharp business sense (which had already led him to invest in — and give his name to — the Waring blender) allowed him to build an affiliated empire that included workshops, publishing, and real estate. By the time he died in 1984 he’d firmly established his legacy.