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.
Frankie Randall – “More”
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.
Yma Sumac – “Bo Mambo”
We’re overdue for another edition of Country Catalyst, the Special Feature that offers a classic country song while hoping to open a few ears and make some new fans. As it happens, today’s song is another one with an American Indian theme, sort of like our previous post, but this one has quite a pedigree.
When Cindy Walker wrote “Cherokee Maiden” in 1941, she was still in the early stages of what would be a Hall of Fame career, but she knew it was perfect for Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. It was indeed, and his hit record of the song apparently appealed to listeners who would have at that time needed cheering up while nervously watching the beginnings of World War II.
The song became a familiar one on bandstands — at least for country bands — and as the years passed it surged into renewed hit status a couple of times. The first notable occasion occurred in the mid-1970s when Merle Haggard took it to #1 on the charts, and the second happened in 2001 when Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel — Bob Wills’ modern counterpart — won a Grammy with the song.
Since we combined Asleep At The Wheel with Bob Wills on an earlier post for Country Catalyst, let’s give Merle Haggard a shot today. (Video below.)
Bob Wills – “Cherokee Maiden”