Today’s featured song on the GMC Special Feature known as Fantastic Foursome is another with a strong connection to Fred Astaire. For a guy who always comes to mind first and foremost as a dancer, he had quite an impact in many other ways during his long career. In this case, he not only introduced the song in a memorable movie but also had a #1 hit record with it.
Irving Berlin wrote “Cheek to Cheek” for 1935’s Top Hat, one of Fred and Ginger’s best-known films. The song was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost the Oscar to “Lullaby of Broadway.” However, Astaire’s record of “Cheek To Cheek” climbed to the top of the music charts and stayed at the #1 spot for five weeks, and — in spite of missing out on the Oscar — would eventually land at the #15 spot on the AFI list of most memorable movie songs. And just for good measure, it would also eventually be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Of course, as the years passed the song was recorded by just about everybody, and some of the best are below. You can listen to each and then — if you like — vote for your favorite in the poll below the video.
Billie Holiday – Eydie & Steve – Frank Sinatra – Vic Damone
Way back in 2007 I put together a post titled The Quintessential Italian Crooner, in which I wrote about some of the better-known Italian/American smoothies. But even though I didn’t intend that post to be all-inclusive and have written about quite a few more since then, it’s still surprising how many others remain. One who would qualify is Frankie Randall, a New Jersey native who was born as Franklin Joseph Lisbona, and he owed a lot of his success to a guy named Sinatra.
Randall actually began his musical life by studying classical piano, but as a teenager he turned his attention to jazz, eventually earning a music scholarship to college. By the early 1960s he’d finished school and was ready to try for a career, and it began to take shape when he snagged a job entertaining at Jilly’s in New York.
The nightclub’s owner, Jilly Rizzo, was an old buddy of Frank Sinatra’s, and Ol’ Blue Eyes spent a lot of time there whenever he was in New York. He soon caught the new kid’s act, and decided to give him a boost by helping him work a deal with RCA Records. It wasn’t long before Randall was generating his first album and soon thereafter enjoying a rise in popularity. His success continued with a second album and in 1965 he was cast as the lead in an otherwise forgettable teen movie (video below).
For the rest of the 1960s and into the 1970s Randall continued to generate records but he also made a lot of TV appearances; not just guest shots, but also as a regular (and fill-in host) on Dean Martin’s show. He also found time to do a few international music tours before eventually settling down in the 1980s as the musical director of an Atlantic City casino. But he wasn’t quite finished with performing, returning to the spotlight in the 1990s and eventually creating a special stage show titled Tribute To Sinatra, helped by his old friend’s gift of his arrangements shortly before his death in 1998. Randall continued to work off and on in his later years, and was 76 when he died in 2014.
It seems to me that I often open by writing about how a name might be unfamiliar to modern music fans, and I’m guessing today’s spotlighted singer will baffle most. And yet, Yma Sumac was a pretty big deal in her day. A flamboyant performer whose voice covered more than four octaves, she was a star of the music genre known as Exotica, and was said to be a descendant of Inca royalty. (But was she? More later about that.)
So the story goes, she was born in Peru as Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chávarri del Castillo, and began performing in local festivals as a child. Her family moved to Lima in the pre-World War II years, and she became a member of a renowned Peruvian collective of musical performers, eventually marrying its director, Moises Vivanco. Within a few years Yma and her husband had joined with a cousin to form the Inca Taqui Trio and moved to post-war New York.
It wasn’t long before the threesome — and especially Yma — began finding a lot of success, appearing in nightclubs and on radio, and even finding the occasional spot on early TV. By 1950 Capitol Records had signed her to a solo contract and she was soon selling a lot of records too. Her amazing voice, combined with her colorful costumes and voluptuous beauty, helped her become a star. Before long she was appearing on Broadway and later at both Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. She made European tours and even showed up in the 1954 Charlton Heston film Secret Of The Incas.
It was probably inevitable that someone would start rumors about her, and they did. Even though the Peruvian government supported her claim of being a descendant of the last Incan emperor, stories circulated that she was really a Brooklyn housewife named Amy Camus. (Yma Sumac spelled backward.) But she never acknowledged any of that, and eventually the fervor died down although her career momentum was beginning to slow a little anyway. By the 1960s she was semi-retired, but she would continue to make spot appearances for many years. She was 86 when she died in 2008.
Although most would now remember Eddie Albert as the actor who played the city-bred farmer on TV’s Green Acres in the late 1960s, some of us will also recall that he had a long career that stretched from big movie roles in the 1940s and 1950s to countless TV appearances well into the 1990s. But what you might not know is that he also tried his hand at singing for a while, and even had a hit record – sort of.
Edward Albert Heimberger was a native of Rock Island, Illinois, and even though he had some acting experience in school he didn’t really start out with a show business career in mind. He instead began his adult working life in the business world, but that ended when the stock market crashed and the depression began.
During the 1930s he tried a variety of jobs that in some cases seem almost apocryphal. Among his activities were singing on the radio as part of a trio (after dropping his awkward last name), and co-hosting a show in New York, where it’s said he also appeared in the first live test of a new technology — television. Additionally, he apparently spent some time sailing the coast off of Baja California and then working as a trapeze artist in a Mexican circus — but it was all as an undercover agent for the US government, worried about Axis activities in the area. He had a few other jobs too, but by the late 1930s, Eddie Albert was in Hollywood and finding parts in movies.
Although his film career was interrupted by his service in World War II (during which he was awarded a bronze star), Albert made a number of successful appearances in movies through the 1940s and into the 1950s. It was about then that he began returning to the medium he’d been a part of earlier — TV — where he found plenty of work, and he also began developing a singing career. He not only recorded a number of songs as a solo singer, but also enjoyed a lot of success paired up with his wife Margo in a night club act. But strangely enough his only charted record — “Little Child” — was a decidedly saccharin novelty song performed in a duet with the baby-voiced Sondra Lee.
Eddie Albert continued to find TV work well into the 1990s, and even though he developed Alzheimer’s in his later years he was always vibrant and physically active. And he was still that way right up until his death at age 99 in 2005. His son, actor/singer Edward Albert, took care of him in his last years and tragically died himself less than a year later.
One of the most fascinating stories from the early jazz age would have to that of Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, who left behind a budding career in the US in fear of the Ku Klux Klan, only to become a star in Europe. In fact, during the 1920s and 1930s he was one of the biggest cabaret performers around; a handsome, charismatic singer and pianist whose lifestyle led to him being called ‘high society’s favorite gigolo’.
Born in 1900 on the Caribbean island of Grenada, Leslie Arthur Julien Hutchinson was the son of a church organist who made sure his offspring had a musical background, even though he had higher hopes for him. While still in his teens, young Leslie moved to New York to study but found himself drawn to a musical career. He began by playing piano and singing in bars, and within a few years he was playing in area bands and beginning to make records.
Unfortunately, the band Hutch played for was so popular with high society fans that it was targeted by the KKK, and he fled to Europe. Shortly before that he had married and fathered a daughter, but it’s unclear whether they made the trip with him. In any case, it didn’t take long for him to become a cabaret star — first in Paris, and then in London — while also becoming the favorite of many of his upper class female fans. (And possibly a few men too — he was rumored to be bisexual.) At least one of his affairs with a British socialite resulted in a scandal when it produced another of what would eventually be his eight children (with seven different women).
Although Hutch continued to be a popular attraction in England for many years, he did have a setback in the mid-1930s when he was romantically linked with a titled member of the British aristocracy. Some of his previous fans deserted him after that, and he was no longer welcome to perform at any royal functions. Still, he continued to stay busy on stage, radio, and TV as the years passed, but eventually his career wound down and he was also dogged by ill health. He died in 1969.
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