The Powerhouse : Don Cornell ©2002JCMarion


Don Cornell, born Luigi Valero, was a big voiced baritone who was born in New York City. He launched his music career as a guitarist with Red Nichols, and began his singing career in the late 1930s with a stint at the Hotel Edison in New York. He recorded with the band of Bobby Hayes on Mercury #70309 with the tune "Trust In Me". In January of 1942 Don was with the orchestra of the McFarlane Twins and recorded "When Day Is Done" and "Hey Zeke ! Your Country's Calling" with Betty Norton and The Norton Sisters on Bluebird #1149. A few months later Cornell joined the band of Sammy Kaye and recorded two tunes that made the top seller charts - "I Left My Heart At The Stage Door Canteen" from the Broadway musical "This Is The Army" for RCA Victor #27932 which reached the number three position, and "I Came Here To Talk For Joe" on #27994 which made the number eight slot. His tenure with the band was short lived however, as he joined the U.S. military. With the war over, Cornell got back together with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra replacing Billy Williams late in 1946 and began a productive stay.

Don Cornell made his first visit to the best selling charts since returning from military service in a big way with RCA Victor #2251 in the spring of 1947. The songs were "That's My Desire" a cover of the Frankie Laine hit, and the flip side was "Red Silk Stockings And Green Perfume". Both sides were substantial sellers with "Perfume" getting into the top ten and staying for two months on the charts, while "Desire" even with the Laine version so successful, got to the number two position in the country and spending almost six months on the best sellers list. That was quite a debut for the singer with the established band of Sammy Kaye. Later in the year the tune "An Apple Blossom Wedding" was released on #2330 and reached number five in the country. At year's end, "Serenade Of The Bells" on #2372 was another huge hit with a stay of four months on the charts and topping out at number three.

After just one year with the band, Don Cornell proved to be the most popular vocalist since the Kaye band was formed. Cornell then recorded two duets with Laura Leslie - "Hand In Hand" on #2482, and "I'll hate Myself In The Morning" on #2524, both of which were top 20 sellers. 1948 featured "I Love You Yes I Do" a cover of Bull Moose Jackson's R & B hit on RCA Victor #2674, and "Tell Me A Story" on #2761 both of which were top ten selling releases. In early 1949 Cornell continued with Sammy Kaye and recorded "Down Among The Sheltering Palms" on #3100 a top fifteen seller. "Careless Hands" released in February of 1949 was a huge hit that was a five and a half month mainstay on the charts and topped out at the number three position. A duet with Laura Leslie on "Kiss Me Sweet" ( #3420) briefly charted, while mid 1949 saw the Don Cornell led vocal on "Roomful Of Roses" become another monster hit that remained for six months and got to the number two position in America.

A tune from the film "Neptune's Daughter" called "Baby It's Cold Outside" was given the duet treatment by Don and Laura Leslie and was a top twelve seller for RCA Victor #3532. In early 1950, Don Cornell stepped into the recording studio for RCA and recorded the song "It Isn't Fair" with Sammy Kaye on #3609. Before the record ended its more than six months stay on the best seller charts it had sold well more than one million copies and was number two for six consecutive weeks kept out of the top spot by "The Third Man Theme". The enormity of the sales he had racked up convinced Cornell that he was ready to go out on his own after eight years with Sammy Kaye. Cornell had sixteen charted records with Kaye, all but two of those in the last three years. RCA Victor kept Cornell with their label and looked forward to the continuation of the string of hits.

Unfortunately things did not work out as RCA had planned. "I Surrender Dear" on #3776 failed to sell, and "I Need You So" (#3884) barely charted. "Au Revoir Again" on #3909, "The Breeze" (#3960), "That Old Feeling" on #4043, and "I'll Be Seeing You" were all failures in sales and airplay. RCA then came to the conclusion that without Sammy Kaye, Don Cornell could not be as big a success as he had been in the past. In late 1951 they let him go after a decade together, and now Cornell was really on his own. In the first days of 1952 Don Cornell was signed to Coral Records, and he hoped a fresh new beginning would be what he needed to revive his flagging career.

Maybe it was the change of scenery, or perhaps it was just the right time, or maybe a bit of luck was involved. Whatever the reason, the first Cornell release for Coral on #60659 was a song from the film of singer Jane Froman's life "With A Song In My Heart" - called "I'll Walk Alone". The record began selling big almost immediately and carried Cornell into the top five best sellers and a five month stay on the charts. This record and most of Don Cornell's Coral recordings were accompanied by the Norman Leyden Orchestra. Almost before "I'll Walk Alone" began to fade, Coral #60690 was released in late spring featuring the song "I'm Yours". The song was perfectly suited for the strong baritone of Cornell and resulted in a massive hit record selling more than a million copies and reaching the number three position on the best seller charts. It stayed on the best seller list through the summer and re-established Cornell as one of the top recording stars of the post war era.

Don Cornell's big year of 1952 continued with "This Is The Beginning Of The End" on #60748, a top 20 seller. In September Cornell was paired with Coral Records other big seller Theresa Brewer for "You'll Never Get Away" on #60829 which made it into the top 20 sellers also. The final chart record of the year was a song called simply "I" on #60860 which got to number seven in the country, and so closed out a magnificent year for the singer. He had come back from a difficult time as he went his own way as a single performer, and proved to the world that the talent was there and was his.

In the year 1953, Cornell started the ball rolling with "S'posin'" on Coral #60903, and "She Loves Me" on #61011 were both moderate hits and top 30 sellers. During the summer "Please Play Our Song" on #61030 did somewhat better reaching into the top 20. Later that year "Heart Of My Heart" with the 3 D's was a top ten seller. "You're On Trial" on 61068 charted briefly. The spring of 1954 resulted in two moderate hits with "Size 12" for Coral #61125, and "Believe In Me" on #61171. Don showed he still had it when he closed out the year with a huge hit with a song from the movie "Susan Slept Here". The song was called "Hold My Hand" and was recorded with Jerry Carr's orchestra. Five months on the best seller charts and a solid number two in sales gave Cornell his second million seller as a solo singer.

It was 1955 and the rock 'n roll age was upon us and Don Cornell took notice. He seemingly did the impossible when he covered The Moonglows doo-wop classic "Most Of All" (the flip side was another doo-wop cover, of The Cardinals "The Door Is Still Open" also covered by The Hilltoppers) and made a decent hit out of his version. It was a top 15 seller for Coral #61393. In September, another change of pace with "The Bible Tells Me So" which appealed greatly to middle America and made number seven on the charts. The flip side also did well, the pop tune "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" which made the top 30. The last charted record for Don Cornell was another interesting choice - a song called "Young Abe Lincoln" on #61521 a top 25 for Coral Records.

In 1963 Don Cornell was rewarded for his great career by being the recipient of a personal star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In later years Cornell made sporadic appearances in television such as on Miami Vice and BC Stryker. As of 2002, Cornell still performs on occasion, and CD's of his vocal style are readily available such as "Something To Remember Me By", "I'll Be Seeing You", "From Italy With Love", "Don Cornell Now, and "If I Never Sing Another Song".

Don Cornell and his powerful baritone style was a top record seller during the big band era, the post war band years, and the fifties pop scene. He was certainly a top performer during the entire time of the Interlude Era, and is one of American pop music's true superstars.

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