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Doris Day – Singer

Yesterday was Doris Day’s birthday – were she just discovered she is truly 95 and not 93 as she had thought – and in honor of her birthday, Love Letters to Old Hollywood has hosted “The Doris Day Blogathon,” which I am delighted to participate in with this tribute to Doris Day as singer.

I’ve always loved Doris Day as an actress, but one of the remarkable things about her is that even if she had never been an actress, she would have deserved to be remembered as a great singer, one of the most popular of her era. She was singing number one hits on the chart before she had even become an actress (click here for a look at her chart hits and discography).

Doris Day originally intended to be a dancer, but when an accident left her temporarily disabled, she turned to singing. She would listen to Ella Fitzgerald and try, as she said, “to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.” Her teacher taught her to sing as if she were singing into the ear of one person. The result is that she developed one of the most intimate styles of singing that I have ever heard.

She envelopes you in her warm vibrato. She had perfect diction, a beautifully fresh tone, that could also be suggestive, and spellbinding phrasing. But she’s an understated performer, which I believe has led to her being underappreciated. It sounds easy. Her singing has even been called easy listening, but there is nothing easy about it.

Check out her phrasing in “My One and Only Love.” Listen to the way she sings the first line “The very thought of you/makes my heart sing.” She sings it as one phrase, pausing after “you,” but not breathing, only to swoop up vocally on “makes my heart sing.” Such phrasing is only possible with perfect breath control and technique. I tried imitating her, which only increased my appreciation of her.

She was also a mesmerizing performer and no one could put across a song quite like her. When showing the movie Love Me or Leave Me to my cousin, she remarked on how the camera rarely moved while Doris Day was singing. As she said, it didn’t have to. Doris Day draws you in, just sitting there singing, and anything else would be a distraction (listen to “It All Depends on You for an example”). She demonstrates the exact same thing in her version of “The Way We Were.” Her ability, without histrionics, without much movement, to tell a story and convey feeling is marvelous. But this subtly has also, I think, contributed to her sometimes being underappreciated as a singer (as well as the way people association her with more upbeat song).

Although primarily known for singing popular music, Doris Day was also a fine jazz singer and it has been remarked be a number of people that she could have been one of the greatest female jazz singers if she had pursued that path. Here is a jazzier song from her discography, called “You’re Just Too Marvelous,” which she sang in the film Young Man With a Horn. The trumpet player is Harry James.

Of course, in a pinch she could also belt out a song Broadway style, as she proved in Pajama Game.

Absolutely stunning singer! I never get tired of listening to her.

Thanks so much to Love Letters to Old Hollywood for hosting! And Be sure to check out all the other posts about her life and career and films.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in Music

 

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Dorothy Lamour as (Torch) Singer

lamour4Dorothy Lamour was a singer before her career as an actress and was a singer still after her movie career had faded. She actually got her start as a singer (well, actually she got her start doing beauty pageants). She toured with bandleader Herbie Kay (whom she married) and performed frequently on radio and did some vaudeville. In the ’60s she became a nightclub entertainer and stage performer (touring with “Hello, Dolly.”). And she did television. She seems to have kept very busy. But one thing that remained constant on stage, on television, in her nightclub act, on radio and in her movies was that she sang.

The song she might be most associated with is “The Moon of Manakoora,” which was written for John Ford’s The Hurricane by Frank Loesser and Alfred Newman (who wrote the film’s score, as well) and in which Lamour had one of her best sarong roles. The song seemed to personify her sarong role.

But Lamour was not limited to sarong roles or sarong songs. She could also sing a pretty heartbreaking torch song. My favorite example of this is in the 1940 film Johnny Apollo, which she appeared in with Tyrone Power. She plays the hard luck girlfriend of gangster Lloyd Nolan, but falls in love with posh Power and tries to help him when he gets involved with the gangsters. Lamour was good at playing hard luck girls (her name in Johnny Apollo is even Lucky Dubarry), the kind of girl who stands by the man she loves no matter what, who’s been kicked around in life and is not necessarily destined for a happy ending (she played a similar role in Spawn of the North).

“This is the Beginning of the End” was written by Mack Gordon. I love how she sings this song. Her voice is rich, throbbing and gets in your chest and resonates. Classic torching singing – sitting by a piano, possibly amidst cigarette smoke, singing your heart out while sitting mostly still. It’s in the voice and in the eyes (Helen Morgan does something similar in the 1936 Show Boat with “Bill”).

On a side note, I always thought Johnny Apollo went slightly wrong in giving her a happy ending.

Here is another example of a torch song sung by Lamour in 1945, “Perfidia.” This one is about the betrayal of her lover. The song originally had Spanish lyrics and was written by Alberto Dominguez. Martin Leeds wrote the English lyrics. The song is most famous for being performed by Glenn Miller, here. But I don’t find the lyrics as sung in his version quite as heartbreaking as Lamour’s rendition.

Okay, so “I’m in the Mood for Love” isn’t a torch song, but a love song, which she sings so beautifully – intimate, sexy, sweet. The music was written by Jimmy McHugh and the lyrics by Dorothy Fields.

Under this last youtube video was a comment by Wayne Brasler: “A wonderful singer though I think people just took that for granted, as they took her. She was so natural and so relaxed in front of the camera and in films the fact she was an outstanding actress and singer weren’t noted.” I think that’s true. In an industry where many people had their voices dubbed, the fact that she did her own singing – and did it well – largely goes unnoticed. Just as her singing in the Road series was taken for granted (partially because of the presence of Bing Crosby). But imagine, for a moment, a Road movie with a lead who couldn’t sing? Or had their voice dubbed? Some of the magic of the series would have been missing.

This post is part of my contribution to the “Dorothy Lamour Blogathon,” hosted by Silver Screenings and Front and Frock. Be sure to check out the rest of the entries, which will be posted as a recap at the end of the day.

Dorothy Blogathon

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2016 in Music

 

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Billie Holiday Sings “My Man”

Billie Holiday with Louis Armstrong from the movie New Orleans

Billie Holiday with Louis Armstrong from the movie New Orleans

When I first became interested in American popular music, the music that is now referred to as The Great American Songbook, the singers I most often listened to were Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Doris Day. They are extremely accessible singers, particularly Ella Fitzgerald. And one of the things that particularly led me to Ella Fitzgerald were the songbook albums she recorded. Her first songbook recording was The Cole Porter Songbook in 1955. She went on to record a songbook for Harold Arlen (most famous for the songs in The Wizard of Oz), George and Ira Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer (a lyricist more than a composer) and Jerome Kern. There is no better introduction to all these composers or to the Great American Songbook than these albums by Ella Fitzgerald.

However, there was one singer I have constantly heard described as one of the finest interpreters of the Great American songbook, despite the fact that she is known primarily as a jazz singer: Billie Holiday.

But Billie Holiday has taken me some time to appreciate. Known for her artistry as a singer, she is not known for a lovely voice. In fact, her voice has been described as “raspy” by some and she is not what I would call easy listening. You have to concentrate more on her than you do on Ella Fitzgerald.

I recently read a book called Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth by John Szwed. The book is less a biography and more of an appreciation of her art as a singer. He discusses her voice, the songs she sings, but mostly how she sings them. It is a book that requires that you periodically go to youtube to hear what he is describing otherwise his descriptions can be difficult to follow. The other difficultly I had with the book is that he seems to assume that the reader is already familiar with the “myths” of Billie Holiday. There’s been a lot written, but not a lot known for certain, especially about her early life. But I really did like his focus on her music rather than on her life and it went a long way in helping me to appreciate her.

Billie Holiday had a very limited vocal range, so one of her trademarks was to flatten the songs somewhat, repeating certain notes. She would also often slow down songs, much slower than anyone else was singing them, and she sang with a somewhat looser rhythm. Szwed described it at one point as floating above the accompaniment, though she would always catch up rhythmically when she needed to. Billie Holiday began singing in nightclubs, which had a more intimate setting, and another feature of her style was a more confessional approach to singing, almost as if she were talking rather than singing.

The song that finally helped me to really hear what Billie Holiday was doing was a 1949 live performance of the song “My Man,” with Jimmy Rowles on the piano. It’s a tragic love song, about how she loves her man despite the fact that he is no good whatsoever and doesn’t love her, beats her (in contemporary recordings, the reference to beating is sometimes removed), and doesn’t even understand how much she loves him, but she can’t help loving him. This theme of loving a worthless man is fairly common to songs of that era (why don’t we ever hear men sitting around singing songs about how much they love their worthless women?), but the feeling behind the song, the way Billie Holiday sings it, is deeply moving.

The song “My Man” was originally written in French in the nineteen-teens and called “Mon Homme.” It was popularized in America in 1921 by Fanny Brice, Ziegfeld Follies singer, actress and comedian and the song is still primarily associated with her, though Barbra Streisand has also sung it in the movie Funny Girl, that is somewhat based on the life and career of Fanny Brice.

Billie Holiday first recorded the song in 1937. At the time, she was making a vast number of recordings with Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra. They were recording music for jukeboxes specifically for black audiences and now those recordings are considered, according to Szwed, to be some of the finest jazz ever recorded. Her recordings with Teddy Wilson are also noted for the fine interaction between Holiday, who said she wanted to use her voice like an instrument, and the improvisation of the instrumentalists.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Great American Songbook

 

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