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Doris Day’s Career as a Pop Singer

As Will Friedwald writes in his essential A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers “The world of pop music is a funny place – perhaps the only area of our culture where someone can be rich and famous and still be considered ‘underrated.'” He is referring to Doris Day. Actually, the entire reason that I purchased his book is because I had read that he was an enthusiastic fan of Doris Day as a singer, which turned out to be perfectly true. “Doris Day can be considered the best [pop singer] just because she’s as great as a pop singer can be.” “Doris Day sang like she had nothing to prove.” “Doris Day has a sound like bottled sunshine. It’s hard to think of another human voice that’s so luxuriously sensual.” “At her very best, Doris Day is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald, yet though she’ll hardly die broke, she’s never gotten a fraction of their respect.”

The irony is that Doris Day became a singer by accident. In many ways, her entire career was an accident. Born Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff, she once said, “I’m still Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff from Cincinnati, Ohio. All I ever wanted to do was to get married, have a nice husband, have two or three children, keep house and cook – a nice clean house – and live happily ever after – and I ended up in Hollywood.”

But even if she hadn’t ended up in Hollywood, she would have had a stellar career as a pop singer, though it was her career as a singer that ultimately led her to Hollywood. Fortunately, unlike other fine singers like Alice Faye or even Judy Garland, she was still able to record while making films.

She originally intended to be a dancer. As a child, she teamed up with another young dancer, Jerry Dougherty, and danced around Cincinnati, winning prizes until Doris Day’s mother decided they should move to Hollywood, where she was convinced her daughter would be a success. But before they could move, Doris Day was in a car accident, which left her right leg shattered. It took her a year to recover fully. To pass the time, she listened to the radio and tried to sing along with Ella Fitzgerald. She eventually took lessons and her teacher, Grace Raine, recognized that Day’s voice and singing was special.

Day sang at a local Chinese Restaurant, sang on the radio, and soon was hired by band-leader Barney Rapp, who gave her the name Doris Day, supposedly after the song she sang, “Day by Day.” Rapp’s band played at Rapp’s nightclub in Cincinnati, then went on tour. She then sang for bandleaders Bob Crosby, Fred Waring, and finally Les Brown.

Les Brown and Doris Day

After a disastrous marriage to trombonist Al Jorden, who was abusive, she was now a young divorcee with a child and returned to work with Les Brown. In 1945, she would record her first big hit, “Sentimental Journey,” which struck home with the post-WWII mood of returning soldiers and starting life afresh.

Before taking a screen test and being chosen by Michael Curtiz for her first film, Romance on the High Seas (where she had another hit with “It’s Magic”), she signed with Columbia Records. After WWII, the big bands were fading and there was more interest in vocalists, like Frank Sinatra. Unfortunately, many of the songs Columbia would assign Day were cheesy novelty numbers, but there were also records and songs of the highest quality.

She would never tour again and she always preferred not to perform live. The remainder of her career as a singer would occur in the recording studio. But she only grew more popular, both as an actress and singer, into the 1960s.

Some of her greatest albums are “Duet,” where she is accompanied by Andre Previn; “Day by Day” and “Day By Night.” Will Friedwald also makes a case for her recording with Robert Goulet of “Annie Get Your Gun.” But there are many more. She spanned big band, Broadway, pop, and could even swing.

As Friedwald writes, “Dinah Shore, who had been around longer, had a bigger broadcasting career, but couldn’t touch Day in pictures; Judy Garland had a shorter but more spectacular film career, but wasn’t utilized as much on recordings or radio as she should have been. Paramount tried to make Rosemary Clooney the next Doris Day, but she never caught on in pictures. Day was the sole female singer to come from the band world and make the transition to solo stardom and pictures.”

Friedwald tends to measure the ultimate success of a singer, not only by their vocal abilities, but by the body of work that they produce, if they record worthy songs and albums that stand the test of time. In the case of Day, despite all the novelty songs, she recorded an impressive number of songs by the great composers like Gershwin, Berlin, Mercer, Rodgers, etc. Sadly, at least sadly for us, she retired from singing quite early in life, when she was in her forties.

But perhaps it’s churlish to repine. It is her life to live and she gave us so much extraordinary music. Far more than most singer/actors. I can never get tired of listening to her vast body of work.

This post was written as part of the “Second Annual Doris Day Blogathon,” hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood. Click here for more posts celebrating Doris Day.


Sources:

Considering Doris Day – by Tom Santopietro

A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers – by Will Friedwald

The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums – by Will Friedwald

 

 

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Posted by on April 3, 2018 in Music

 

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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.

 
11 Comments

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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