The Sound of an Era : Percy Faith ©1999JCMarion


Percy Faith was born in April, 1908 in Toronto, Canada. His early interests in music took the form of studies on both the violin and piano. As a teenager he found part time work playing musical accompaniment for silent movies in the Toronto area. He furthered his studies at the Toronto Music Conservatory and soon became an arranger for numerous orchestras in the region. From there he moved into radio and by the time he was thirty years old Faith was appointed conductor and staff arranger for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In short order he had a radio program under his own name, and had a number of listeners in the United States. In 1940 he came to California where American radio offered him wider opportunities than were available in Canada. He found an important outlet almost immediately-The Contented Hour sponsored by Carnation. The show ran Monday evenings on NBC through most of the nineteen forties and starred vocalists such as Buddy Clark and Dinah Shore. Faith also conducted the orchestra for the Coca Cola show called The Pause That Refreshes which also featured vocalist Jane Froman in 1948. Through his extensive radio work his style of arranging and orchestration became well known and soon came to the attention of Columbia Records. The label signed Faith as chief arranger and conductor, and coupled with the addition of Mitch Miller over from Mercury as top producer, launched its position as the dominant force in American popular music for the first half of the decade.

In 1950 Percy Faith began to become a recording artist with his new label. One of his first records for Columbia charted as high as number twenty during the Spring of that year. It was the song "I Cross My Fingers" and featured a vocal by Russ Emery (Col #38786). Faith had two other records that made the charts in 1950 - "All My Love" (which was adapted from a theme from "Bolero") which was a solid hit that got into the top ten (Col #38918), and the seasonal "Christmas In Killarney" with a vocal by The Shillelagh Singers. One of the big pop hits of the year was written by Faith, a song called "My Heart Cries For You" which was based on a melody supposedly written by France's queen Marie Antoinette. The song by vocalist Guy Mitchell went on to sell more than one million records (Col #39067). Percy Faith was now the arranger of choice for the label's biggest sellers-Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, and Mitchell. In 1951 folk singer Burl Ives covered The Weavers record of "On Top Of Old Smokey" with an arrangement by Faith that scored in the top ten (Col #39328). Late in the year the pairing of "When The Saints Go Marching In" / "I Want To Be Near You" on Columbia #39528 briefly made the pop charts. By now Percy faith was also recording, conducting, and arranging for the rest of the roster of pop vocalists for Columbia such as Sarah Vaughn, Alan Dale, Toni Arden, Jerry Vale, and Marion Marlowe and Frank Parker from the Arthur Godfrey show.

In 1952 Percy Faith hit the number one spot on the American pop charts. It was accomplished with a tune called "Delicado" dominated by an instrument not usually associated with pop music success-the harpsichord which is a keyboard related to the piano. Stan Freeman was the featured instrumentalist, and the catchy tune also featured a variation of the Brazilian baione rhythm, and some unusual chord changes. The unique sound certainly resonated with record buyers and music fans as the record remained on the charts for close to six months. The flip side called "Festival" was also an atmospheric piece that brought forth the spirit of celebration. By 1953 Faith was one of the most recognizable names in American popular music both for his own work and that in conjunction with established stars for the Columbia Records juggernaut. April of 1953 saw the high point of this phase of his career. A theme song from a motion picture was the vehicle. The picture was "Moulin Rouge" the story of tormented French artist Toulouse Lautrec starring Jose Ferrer, and the song was subtitled "Where Is Your Heart". The orchestration by Faith was among the most musically rewarding of the era with a shimmering cascade of ascending notes used as the framing of the performance. After the orchestra's reading of the melody, a vocal refrain of great emotional presentation by Felicia Sanders leads to the finale. This Columbia release (#39944) remains one of the top sellers of the time and helps define the pre rock fifties. It was a mainstay on the pop charts for more than six months and was the number one record in the country for almost half that time. Somehow, even with the domination of this song, the flip side called "Swedish Rhapsody" found enough listeners to chart for six weeks.

Two other instrumentals made the charts for Percy Faith in 1953 - a movie theme called "Return To Paradise" (Col #39998) and "Many Times" (Col #40076), and two more briefly charted the next year - "Dream Dream Dream" (Col #40185) and "The Bandit" (Col #40323). By now the motion picture industry showed interest in his musical talents, and Faith answered by doing the arranging for the Doris Day picture "Love Me Or Leave Me" the biography of 1920s singer Ruth Etting. By the late fifties his time was spent arranging and writing scores for motion pictures such as "The Third Day", "The Oscar" and "I'd Rather Be Rich", and continuing work at Columbia Records, especially with that label's late fifties star singer Johnny Mathis. It was the world of motion pictures that gave Percy Faith a return to the top of the musical world in 1960. A tune written by Max Steiner for the coming of age film "A Summer Place" was recorded by the Percy Faith Orchestra and featured in the film. It struck a chord at once with both the listeners and those who had seen the movie and were captivated by the wonderful melody and its lingering subtleties. The Columbia recording went on to sell three million copies and remained in the number one position for more than two months. As the time moved into the sixties, he had many albums of his music released into the early 70s. They included show tunes such as "My Fair Lady" (CL #895), "Lil' Abner" (CL #955), and "South Pacific" (CS 8005). Songbook albums such as "George Gershwin" (CL #1081), and "Victor Herbert" (CL #1201), theme albums such as "Themes For Young Lovers" (CL #2023) and "The Academy Award Winners" (CL # 2650) were featured. Two of the finest were "Bouquet"(CL # 1322) and the inevitable "Greatest Hits" (CL #1493).

Percy Faith passed away in 1976, but his legacy remains with his music. Both under his own name and as arranger and / or conductor for some of the biggest names in pop music of the post war era, he was at the top of his profession. His sound, style, and orchestrations were the stuff of which sound pictures of an era are made of. The uniqueness of these qualities were also the reasons why they remain timeless. Think of "Delicado", "The Song From Moulin Rouge", the orchestration behind Tony Bennett's "Rags To Riches", Johnny Mathis' "Chances Are", and "Theme From A Summer Place",and you will get a small measure of the talent at work. Those are my personal favorites, but it is also a representative sampling of the music of Percy Faith. Recently I came across another of my favorites. Over the Christmas holiday I uncovered in the vast recesses of my "stuff", a long forgotten album of Christmas music by Percy Faith, which was the usual pop potpourri of fluff and stuff, but on the title cut, a seldom played song called "Christmas Is", there once again was the magic of Percy Faith and his music. It was a long and rewarding journey from the silent movie houses of Toronto, Canada, to the pinnacle of pop music success in America. I am glad that we were along for the ride and the memories of this most talented provider of musical mementos of the Interlude Era, Percy Faith.

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