December 24, 2017 posted by James Parten

Sing Me A Cartoon 24: Snow White Meets The Big Bands

By the time that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was ready for release, the Walt Disney company was wise to many more of the ways in which the movie–and its songs–could be promoted.

And the tastes of popular music had evolved in a way that would have seemed inconceivable at the time of “The Three Little Pigs”. For this was the much-revered “Big Band Era”.

Most records being put out at the time were dance records by orchestras of ten or more pieces. “Swing” bands were followed avidly by “alligators” and “hep cats”, some of whom followed their favorites in such monthly magazines as “Down Beat” and “Metronome”.

“Sweet” and “Society” bands also had followings, even if those followings were not as avid as those of the “swing” bands. And there was room for all kinds of boats in this rising tide of melody, harmony and rhythm.

There were seven songs available from the Snow White score. Of the seven, the one that seems to have been ignored by the bands was the “Dwarfs’ Yodel Song” (a/k/a “The Silly Song”). One could picture a “show” band–such as those of Fred Waring or Ted Weems–tackling a number that would give their large number of vocalists a chance to shine individually. But nobody seems to have thought of that.

Another song that got almost totally ignored was “I’m Wishing”. Only one dance recording of the piece is known: that by Fred Rich and his group of studio musicians, who recorded six of the seven songs for Decca. Rich had been leading radio-studio bands for about ten years, after a spell leading the orchestra at the Hotel Astor in midtown Manhattan. His bands usually had some of the best studio cats in New York. The six sides feature vocals either by a male quartet known as “The Clubmen”, or by a crooner named Sonny Schuyler–who later changed his billing to “Sunny Skylar”, and enjoyed some success as a lyricist in Tin Pan Alley.

“Some Day My Prince Will Come” got slightly wider treatment. Besides Rich (with a vocal by Schuyler, using a special lyric made for a male singer), the song was also recorded by one decidedly minor-league band (Norman Cloutier for what was left of the “dime store” labels), and one studio band (Bib Snyderr for the thirty-five cent Vocalon marque).

Two other romantic numbers from the score, “With A Smile And A Song” and “One Song” got wider coverage. “One Song” got the sweet treatment from Gene Kardos (“dime store”labels) and Jimmie Livingston’s Hotel Charlotte Orchestra (Bluebird). A slightly more swinging treatment was afforded by Art (sic) Shaw, not yet the big name that he would be by the end of 1938. Shaw’s Brunswick recording featured Nita Bradley, a singer heavily influenced by Mildred Bailey.

The two liveliest numbers of the score–the march “Heigh-Ho” and the fox trot “Whistle While You Work”–were also the most widely covered.

“Whistle” was done by the widest range of bands–ranging from Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians (Victor), through the stylized society sound of Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm (Bluebird), the straight, sweet sounds of Bert Block and his Bell Music (Vocalion), and the swinging sounds of Artie Shaw, with tenor-sax man Tony Pastor taking the vocal.

“Heigh-Ho” also had a wide range of band versions, ranging from the Lombardo-wannabee Jimmie Livingston (recorded by Bluebird in North Carolina), through the show-band style of Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights (Brunswick), the dance-band sounds of Gene Kardos (“dime stores”), and Fred Rich (Decca) through the swinging music of the traic Bunny Berigan (Victor).

“Heigh-Ho” even spawned a non-dance version on Vocalion by the Kidoodlers, a four-man vocal-and-instrumental “novelty” group who not only sang, but played such instruments as guitars (regular and Hawaiian), washboard, and whistles (both slide- and penny-whistles).

Next Week: A Holiday “Celebrake”-tion

1 Comment

  • Dear God. Cartoon Music meets Big Band Music. THE bestest Christmas present upon the earth. Thank YOU!!!!

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