Animation Spin salutes Black History Month with a classic Disney album by Louis Armstrong and a TV cartoon soundtrack album inspired by a groundbreaking comic strip.
DISNEY SONGS THE SATCHMO WAY
Buena Vista Records – FantaSound Series STER-4044 (12” 33 1/3 rpm / March 1968)
Disneyland Records STER-1341 retitled “Louis Armstrong: The Wonderful Worlds of Walt Disney” (12” 33 1/3 rpm / 1972)
Walt Disney Records CD-006 (Compact Disc / 1988)
Walt Disney Records 60920 (Compact Disc / 1996)
Currently available for download on iTunes and amazon
Producer: Tutti Camarata. Arrangements: Maxwell Davies. Engineer: Bill Crawford. Recorded at Sunset Sound, Hollywood. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Original Track List:
“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston (from Cinderella);
“’Bout Time” by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (from The One & Only, Genuine, Original Family Band);
“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by George Bruns and Tom Blackburn (from the Disneyland TV show);
“The Bare Necessities” by Terry Gilkyson (from The Jungle Book);
“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” by Allie Wrubel and Ray Gilbert (from Song of the South);
“When You Wish Upon a Star” by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington (from Pinocchio);
“Whistle While You Work” by Larry Morey and Frank Churchill (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs);
“Ten Feet Off the Ground” Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (from The One & Only, Genuine, Original Family Band);
“Heigh-Ho (The Dwarfs’ Marching Song)” by Larry Morey and Frank Churchill (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs);
“Chim Chim Cheree” by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (from Mary Poppins).
As noted several weeks ago in my Animation Spin post about Walt Disney’s Christmas Concert, Walt would occasionally personally initiate concepts for his in-house record labels. According to 1992 CD reissue producer André Mika, in 1966 it was Walt who invited music giant Louis Armstrong to record an album of Disney songs.
Armstrong had already appeared in a 1962 episode of Walt Disney Wonderful World of Color called Disneyland After Dark (released to DVD on the Walt Disney Treasures collection, Disneyland U.S.A.). He had also worked with Disneyland and Buena Vista Records A&R Director Tutti Camarata. However it came about, Disney Songs the Satchmo Way is pure gold.
The album’s musical style is unlike any of Disneyland/Vista’s releases at the time (though George Bruns’ earlier release, Deep in the Heart of Dixieland, comes close). Some star performers, when recording songs they might see as “kid stuff,” took a less sophisticated, “cuter” approach, but Armstrong and the musicians play these songs with the same verve and fervor as any other great tunes.
Disneyland Records President Jimmy Johnson chose to release Disney Songs the Satchmo Way in the Buena Vista’s “FantaSound” series, inspired by the Oscar-winning stereo sound system created for Walt Disney’s Fantasia. These were a line of Buena Vista albums aimed at adult audiophiles that included Broadway and film scores, classical music and popular vocals. As Johnson wrote in 1975:
Sometimes recording dates are sour from the very first note and nothing seems to go right. Other times they go happily and well. The dates with Louis were among the happiest I can remember. He had been quite ill and had gone on a rigorous diet. He was very thin but looked well and full of energy. He not only sang on the album, he blew his horn – something he hadn’t been doing much in recent days.
Louis enjoyed the sessions too. He wrote a letter to Tutti Camarata, producer of the album which read, in part:
“This goldarned ‘Wish Upon a Star’ is so beautiful and more than that, man—I listen to that tune three or four times at night. Man, did you know I’m a doggoned long-time wishing cat? Well I am, man.
“Tell Maxwell (Davis, who did the arrangements) what a great job he did. That man’s got a soul. (A soul Br’er!) Tutti you are in there yourself. Being one fine trumpet man yourself, you’re bound to get the right sounds ‘n everything “nice” musically in your inimitable way. (Did that come out of me?) That’s it Daddy – nobody mess with those “ears” you have for music.
“I haven’t enjoyed anything better than our recording sessions since — well, I can’t remember when.”
Satchmo gives a moving and very personal rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” on the album, but my personal favorite is “Chim Chim Cheree”, which runs for over five minutes and is marvelous all the way.
Louis never did a voice part in a Disney cartoon but he came close. At the time we made the album the studio was voice casting for The Aristocats. There was a made to order voice part for Pops as the swinging musical cat who befriends Thomas O’Malley, Duchess and the kittens.
I suggested to Woolie Reitherman, the producer, that Louis would be just right. Woolie agreed and several story meetings were held with Louis. But he became ill again and had to bow out. The part was finally voiced by Scatman Crothers.
Recently, the soundtrack album of Mary Poppins was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, alongside the soundtracks of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Fantasia. Several of Louis Armstrong’s records are in the Hall of Fame, too, including “What a Wonderful World.” Perhaps Disney Songs the Satchmo Way should be next.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Ten Feet Off the Ground”
I first heard this song on Walt Disney’s Merriest Songs, a 1968 compilation album offered by Gulf gas stations for $1.00 with a fill-up. While I love both the movie soundtrack and the Michael Feinstein/Rosemary Clooney versions of this song, the definitive rendition belongs to Louis Armstrong. It seems written just for him.
The Original TV Sound Track
A Rankin/Bass Production
Pride (MGM) Records PRD-0010 (12” 33 rpm)
Album Released in 1972. TV Series Producers: Arthur Rankin. Jr., Jules Bass. TV Series Associate Producer: Basil Cox. Writer: William J. Keenan, Based on the Comic Strip “Wee Pals” by Morrie Turner. Music Producer/Arrangers: Perry Botkin, Jr,, Bob Summers. Creative Consultant: Charles H. Stern. Engineers: Jim Harris, Jack Hunt, Angel Balastier. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Voices: The Curbstones (Vocal Group); Greg Thomas (Oliver); Donald Fullilove (Randy, Diz); Jay Silverheels, Jr. (Rocky); Jeff Thomas (Ralph); April Winchell (Connie); Michele Johnson-Murray (Sybil); Gary Shapiro (Jerry, Wellington); Carey Wong (George); Charles Kennedy (Nipper).
Songs: “Kid Power (All the Colors in Your Head)”, Don’t Let the World Go By,” “Uncle Tom,” “Don’t Fake It,” “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” “Big Fish,” “Easy Way,” “Real World” by Perry Botkin, Jr. and Jules Bass; “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III; Everybody’s Got Fingers” (S. Burke/M. Burke/J.F.K. Burke), “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” (Traditional); “The Children’s Marching Song” (Adapted by Malcolm Arnold).
When I learned on Mark Evanier’s newsfromme.com blog about the passing of cartoonist Morrie Turner, this album immediately came to mind. Within five days, we also lost Arthur Rankin, Jr., co-producer of the TV series based on Turner’s Wee Pals, the first syndicated U.S. comic strip created by an African-American. And so it goes…
“Wee Pals” had been in newspapers for seven years before Rankin/Bass and ABC adapted it as Kid Power for Saturday morning TV, the same season that Filmation and CBS introduced Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
Rankin/Bass also cast young voice actors according to the ethnicity of the characters, including Donald Fullilove, who also voiced Michael Jackson for the animated R/B series, Jackson 5ive and played Goldie Wilson onscreen in the Back to the Future films. Jay Silverheels, Jr., son of the actor who played “Tonto” in The Lone Ranger films and TV shows, voiced Rocky, a Native American. Also in the cast as Connie was a preteen April Winchell, now one of Hollywood’s top voice actors (as well as a writer and satirist) whose oeuvre includes Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Despicable Me 2.
Like Fat Albert, Kid Power featured songs with messages in every episode. With mainstay musical director Maury Laws on other R/B projects, Oscar-nominated composer/arranger Perry Botkin, Jr. handled the Kid Power songs and background music, partnering with Jules Bass on the tunes created for the show. Botkin went on to win a Grammy for his arrangement of “Nadia’s Theme (The Young and the Restless)”.
Kid Power did not become the long-running hit that Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was, but it is well-remembered by those of us who enjoyed it during its ABC run and later on VHS tapes (no sign of the complete series on DVD yet).
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Kid Power Theme” / “Don’t Let the World Go By”
Even though this is the same basic music and vocal track as heard on the TV show, a very elaborate orchestration was added for the album and the single versions. “The Curbstones” were a children’s vocal group that was an offshoot of the Mike Curb Congregation. Curb headed MGM Records at the time and Pride was one of his ancillary labels.