In the US and UK crooners occupied the world stage for a short period of time, from the 1920’s to the 1960’s and then were gone.  Since I grew up in their hey-day, during the 1950’s, I have always been fascinated and attracted to them.  Here is a paean to the crooners.

A crooner is a male singer who sings predominantly romantic ballads and slurs some notes and syllables to make them sound sexy.  So for example, Frank Sinatra had excellent enunciation, you could hear every word, not like rock n’roll, but when it came to certain words, he would slur them, such as “moon” in the song “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” the word is pronounced something like “moooon.”  When this style first became popular it was criticized by the establishment and the Church, but it represented the early economic power of youth culture, they bought tickets and records.  It was the invention of the microphone that enabled the crooners to develop their intimate style.

I first learnt about the crooners from an unlikely source, when I worked on Sat mornings in a men’s wear store down the Roman Road in Bethnal Green.  The manager of the store had a voice just like Bing Crosby.  He used to serenade the customers and induce them to buy.  He had been in showbiz for a while, but no-one wanted a copy of Bing Crosby.  But thru him I developed an appreciation for the older origins of crooning. The early Bing Crosby was great, when he really had a voice, not using style only as later on.  But, the origins of crooning preceded Bing.

Here is a  list of crooners, roughly in chronological order (this is not meant to be a comprehensive list):

  • Al Jolson – deep voice, from Washington DC, father was a cantor, included African-American elements in his singing, first hit was Swanee, 1920, active 1904-1950
  • Eddie Cantor – singer and comedian, active 1907-62
  • Hoagy Carmichael – singer and famous song-writer, active 1918-82
  • Louis Armstrong, famous for his gravelly voice and jazzy style, active 1919-71
  • Rudy Vallee – musician with early crooning style, active 1924-74
  • Al Bowlly – famous British crooner, active 1927-41
  • Sammy Davis Jr. – popular singer and entertainer, active 1928-90
  • Mel Tormé – popular jazz singer, active 1929-96
  • Dick Powell – influential singer and actor, active 1930-63
  • Bing Crosby – Dean of the crooners, cultivated relaxed, intimate style, active 1931-54
  • Fred Astaire – classy dancer and singer, active 1932-81
  • Frankie Laine – versatile popular singer, active 1932-2005
  • Perry Como – popular Italian-American singer with relaxed style, active 1932-67
  • Nat “King” Cole – musician and singer, active 1934-65
  • Tex Beneke – popular singer, sang with Glenn Miller, active 1935-75
  • Frank Sinatra – most famous crooner, inimitable style, active 1935-95
  • Dick Haymes – Born in Argentina, sang with Tommy Dorsey, active 1935-56
  • Gene Kelly – famous dancer and singer, active 1938-942
  • Andy Williams – popular singer and entertainer, 1938-2012
  • Billy Eckstine – popular jazz singer, active 1939-90
  • Dean Martin – popular Italian-American entertainer, active 1940-91
  • Tony Bennett – versatile singer and entertainer, active 1945-2015
  • Vic Damone – popular singer, active 1947-2000
  • Eddie Fisher – singer actor, active 1948-2010
  • Johnnie Ray – precursor to rock n’roll, active 1951-89
  • Pat Boone – popular singer and entertainer, active 1954-pres.
  • Johnny Mathis – acclaimed popular singer, active 1956-pres.
  • Steve Lawrence – singer in duo with wife Eydie Gourme, active 1957-pres.
  • Tom Jones  – Welsh, popular singer 1963-pres.
  • Jim Morrison – influential 60’s singer, active 1963-71
  • Barry Manilow – pop music singer, songwriter, 1964-pres.
  • Julio Iglesias – Spanish singer and song-writer, active 1968-pres.
  • Harry Connick Jr.  – Sinatra sound-alike, active 1977-pres.
  • Michael Feinstein – singer-pianist, revived classic American music, active 1986-pres.

My favorite crooner, apart from Frankie, is Al Bowlly, perhaps because my father used to sound like him.  His life story is extraordinary.  His Lebanese Christian father and Dutch mother met on a boat going to Australia.  They were married on board, and left the ship in Mozambique, where Al was born.   Then they moved to S. Africa where Al grew up.  He started singing with a band and when they got a job aboard a cruise ship he joined them.  But, a disagreement resulted in him being left in Saigon, Vietnam, where to survive he became a dockworker.  Later the band toured Germany in the 1930’s and he received a telegram to join them.  He sang in Berlin and was heard by an English critic who arranged for him to go to London to record.  His recordings were very successful and so he moved to London.  He was the most popular British crooner of the 1930’s-40’s.  He was killed by a German bomb in his apartment London in 1941.

Another aspect of the crooners was their backing music.  In the 1920’s it was typical syncopated rhythm, with the usual cymbals at the end of a stanza.  But, then came the big bands of the 1940’s and the crooners sang with them, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorset, etc.  Finally when the crooners were established and successful, they commanded their own orchestras and arrangers, like Frank Sinatra with Nelson Riddle and Axel Stordahl.

It was a short but glorious entertainment epoch.


Foreign WWII Movies

I have recently seen three movies about WWII each from a different European country, Norway,  Holland and Poland.  Each of these tells a story about WWII that was hitherto not well-known and that in a way glorifies the role of these countries in the War.

The movie from Norway is entitled “The Twelth Man” and tells the true story of Jan Baalsrud who together with a group of 11 other British-trained Norwegian commandos attempts to infiltrate into occupied Norway to carry out sabotage against the Germans.  Things go wrong from the start, their contact does not arrive and they are betrayed to the Germans, who ambush their boat.  In order to prevent the Germans capturing their supplies they blow up the boat, and the rest are captured, but only Baalsrud escapes and although wounded in the leg manages to swim in freezing cold water across the fjord.  He is found by a local couple who hide him and treat his wound and pass him on to the resistance, who arrange a series of contacts for him to cross the width of Norway to reach neutral Sweden.  His men are tortured and executed by the Germans. But, the leading Nazi Gestapo officer in charge eventually realizes one has escaped, and the rest of the movie consists of the race between Baalsrud to reach Sweden and the SS officer’s attempt to prevent him.  This becomes a national cause and many risk their lives to ensure that Baalsrud reaches Sweden.  This is seen as a blow to the prestige and credibility of the German forces.

The movie from Holland is “The Resistance Banker.” and also tells a true story of Wally van Hall and his brother Gijsberg, who were both bankers, and in 1942 in German-occupied Amsterdam were asked to help find funds to support the resistance.  They realize that the problem is greater than just funds and they initiate an underground banking system that parallels that of the official bank. Under the noses of the Germans and their Dutch collaborators, they pull off an amazing subterfuge, whereby they not only start a secret banking system, but keep accurate notes of all money transfers, fake the printing of millions of guilders of shares, support the railway men in their extended strike against the Germans and provide funds for the resistance to buy weapons.  The Gestapo are of course after them and eventually through capturing some individuals they find out who is the mysterious individual who is somehow funding the resistance against them.  This is an excellent movie, with real life suffering, suspense and heroes.

The story of the Polish pilots who flew for the RAF during WWII is told in the movie “Hurricanes,” being the name of the British fighter plane the pilots flew in their attacks on the invading Luftwaffe.  At first, the British are perhaps understandably suspicious of these Polish pilots, who arrived from Europe after the Fall of Poland and France.  It takes several stages of development before they realize that it is not merely bravado when they say they don’t need to be “trained” by the British.  The Poles are in fact more experienced than the British pilots.  Over time, the Poles amassed the highest score of German planes downed in the Battle of Britain by any squadron in the RAF.  A majority of the Polish pilots who flew in the RAF were killed while fighting, and they helped thwart the invasion of Britain that Hitler had carefully planned.  Their role was undervalued and under-appreciated.  Unfortunately, many of the survivors were returned to Poland after the War in an agreement with Stalin, where most of them were imprisoned and murdered.