Sound Of An Era : Hugo Winterhalter ©1999JCMarion
Hugo Winterhalter was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in August of 1909. After his college years at Mount St. Mary's, he developed his musical talents by attending the New England Conservatory of Music. During the nineteen thirties he had a number of different vocations within the music profession : he taught both in public institutions and privately, was a sideman in the reed section for territory bands in the Northeast, particularly that of Nye Mayhew long a fixture in the thirties at New York's Hotel Pennsylvania. In the late 1930s he was apart of the Larry Clinton Orchestra, and then with Jack Jenney where he was credited with the arrangement of Jenney's version of "Stardust", one of the greatest renditions of Hoagy Carmichael's classic. In the 1940s Winterhalter was an arranger for a variety of bands including those of Count Basie, Will Bradley, Vaughn Monroe, both of the Dorsey Brothers, Raymond Scott, and Claude Thornhill. By the late 1940s he began to work with vocalists such as Billy Eckstine at MGM Records, and Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark at Columbia. In 1950 went to RCA Victor Records (and was replaced at Columbia by Percy Faith) where he was chief arranger and conductor into the 1960s.
The first charted records under his own name came to Hugo Winterhalter for Columbia Records in 1949. The song "Jealous Heart" which featured a vocal by Johnny Thompson (Col #38593) made the top ten in 1949. Also making the top ten that year (but briefly) was the seasonal song "Blue Christmas" (Col #38635). In early 1950 his last three records for the Columbia label also charted - the cover of the Theresa Brewer hit "Music! Music! Music!", with a vocal by The Five Gems (Col #38704), and two movie themes : a cover of Anton Karas' "Third Man Theme" featuring Tony Mottola (Col #38706), and "My Foolish Heart" (Col #38697). The first RCA Victor release under his name was a winner - "Count Every Star" (RCA #3697) remained on the charts for five months and was a top ten seller. This was followed up with the song "I Wanna Be Loved" featuring a vocal by The Fontaine Sisters (RCA #3772). This record just missed the top ten best sellers list during the summer of 1950. Up and coming baritone vocalist Don Cornell was featured on "I Need You So" released that September on RCA #3884. By now Hugo Winterhalter was the top arranger and conductor for RCA Victor and he worked with a number of vocalists with the label. First and foremost was the label's hottest new male singer, Eddie Fisher, who launched a series of big hits for the label with "Thinking Of You" in October of 1950. Hugo also did arranging for Fran Warren, and classical singers Robert Merrill and Jan Peerce. The biggest star of all for RCA Victor was Perry Como, and Winterhalter did the arranging and conducting on Como's hits of 1953 - "Wild Horses", "Say You're Mine Again", "You Alone" and "Wanted" stepping in for Perry's usual arrangers Mitchell Ayres and Russ Case.
The tune "Mister Touchdown USA" provided Winterhalter with a chart hit in the top ten during the fall of 1950, and this was followed by a reprise of "Blue Christmas" from the year before. In the new year of 1951, Stuart Wade did the vocal on the folk tune "Across The Wide Missouri" on RCA #4017. During the summer of the year former Freddy Martin vocalist and future TV host and game show tycoon Merv Griffin vocalized on a cover of Guy Mitchell's "Belle Belle My Liberty Belle" (RCA #4217), and Hugo closed out the year with his lush orchestration on the song "Beyond The Blue Horizon" from the film "Monte Carlo". The new year began with a slight chart life for a seasonal tune "Blue December" (RCA #4412), and was followed by a cover of Louis Armstrong's "A Kiss To Build A Dream On" from the film "The Strip". The vocal on the tune was by Johnny Parker. Another cover followed - this time it was the Winterhalter version of Leroy Anderson's "Blue Tango" on RCA #4518. Such was the appeal of the song, that although the original by Anderson stayed on the charts for a record nine and a half months, this version was popular enough to remain on the charts for more than four months and got as high as number six in the country. Three more instrumentals finished out the year for Hugo Winterhalter. "Vanessa" was a top ten hit on RCA #4691, and "Blue Violins" and "Fandango" were two sides of RCA #4997 that both made the charts at the end of the year.
The song "The Magic Touch" (RCA #5209) and "The Velvet Glove" which featured fellow arranger Henri Rene on musette (French accordion) on RCA #5405, were the highlights for Winterhalter during the year 1953. He continued to record with Eddie Fisher who had a big year with top ten hits "Even Now", "Downhearted", "With These Hands", "Many Times", and the number one sellers "I'm Walking Behind You", and "Oh My Papa". In 1954 "Latin Lady" (RCA #5655) charted in March for a short time, while the next release "The Little Shoemaker" and "The Magic Tango" (RCA #5769) was a solid top ten seller. The credits on the record list Hugo Winterhalter's Orchestra, Chorus, and Friend. The friend in question was a very recognizable Eddie Fisher. The last charted record by Hugo for the year was "Land Of Dreams" featuring the piano stylings of Eddie Heywood, and the motion picture theme "Song Of The Barefoot Contessa" (RCA #5888).
In late 1953 RCA Victor Records signed The Ames Brothers from Decca subsidiary label Coral, and immediately assigned Hugo Winterhalter to supervise, arrange, and conduct the sessions. The very first date resulted in the huge hit "You You You" which was a million seller that topped the charts and remained there for an incredible thirty one weeks. "The Man With The Banjo" was another big success, and in 1954"The Naughty Lady Of Shady Lane" again hit number one and sold more than one million records. In 1955 he conducted for country star Eddy Arnold and the result was "Cattle Call" another million seller. Shifting gears and styles, Hugo produced "The Rock And Roll Waltz" featuring Kay Starr on vocal, and once again a million seller was the result. In 1956 a pairing once again with piano stylist Eddie Heywood resulted in "Canadian Sunset", one of the great orchestral sounds of the fifties reached the top spot on the charts and racked up more than one million records sold.
During the late fifties and early sixties, a number of albums were released for RCA. Among them that captured the style and musical sound of Hugo Winterhalter were "Always" (LPM #1179), "The Eyes Of Love" (LPM #1338), "Wish You Were Here" (LPM #1904), and "South Of The Border" (LPM #2271). After ending his long tenure at RCA Victor in 1963, he spent a short time at Kapp Records and did some free lance composing and arranging.
Hugo Winterhalter passed away in 1973. As is the case with the story of Percy Faith, Hugo left a long legacy of musical treasures. Unlike Faith, his greatest work was in support of some of the top vocalists of the early fifties such as Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and The Ames Brothers. Hugo Winterhalter's defining moment in the world of American pop music was the 1956 recording of "Canadian Sunset" with Eddie Heywood (the song's composer) on piano. For this alone, he would be a memorable musical figure of an earlier era. But combined with all of his other accomplishments, Hugo Winterhalter was one who provided the sound of a time when the music was certainly the message.
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