Gordon Jenkins was born in Webster Groves, Missouri in 1910. He was an accomplished musician on several instruments but got his start playing banjo with a local orchestra in St. Louis in the early thirties. He became a staff pianist on radio, and it was then that he became interested in the art of arranging music. His rapidly developing talent led to a job as conductor for the band at the stage show The Show Is On on Broadway. Next came a stint as arranger for the band of Isham Jones for which he also played piano. This was the band that evolved into the Woody Herman Band That Plays The Blues in the late thirties. More arranging followed for Benny Goodman, Vincent Lopez, Paul Whiteman, and Andre Kostelanez. Radio work for the NBC network on the west coast carried into the forties where Jenkins was conductor on the Dick Haymes radio program. He signed with Decca records in 1945 as arranger, conductor, and soon, musical director.
In mid 1948 Gordon Jenkins entered the best sellers listing for the first time. It was a lovely wistful ballad sung superbly by Charles LaVere, and was called "Maybe You"ll Be There". The tune was on the charts a total of six months and got as high as number three and sold well over one million copies. The following year saw Gordon Jenkins score with three massive top ten hits for the Decca label. First came "I Don't See Me In Your Eyes Anymore" which got as high as number six and stayed on the charts for five months. Right on the heels of that side came "Again", the beautiful standard introduced by Ida Lupino in the film "Roadhouse" that charted as high as the number two position and remained a big seller on the charts for close to six months. The third of the hits of 1949 for Jenkins was "Don't Cry Joe" which made it to the number four position and was a hit for more than four months.
The year of 1951 was to become the most prolific time of Gordon Jenkins recording career. The early part of the year was remembered for two wistful sentimental ballads which the orchestra and chorus seemed to do so well. First came "My Foolish Heart" which captivated record buyers for six months and helped it reach the number three position on the hit charts. Following weeks behind came another great ballad "Bewitched (Bothered and Bewildered)" originally introduced by Bill Snyder on the independent Tower label. The Gordon Jenkins version of the tune from the 1941 play Pal Joey lasted for 18 weeks on the hit parade and reached the number six position. A surprise hit for Jenkins came in the form of a musical collaboration with swing legend Artie Shaw. It was the fun tune "I'll Be Forever Blowing Bubbles" and it was a moderate hit that got on the charts for six weeks. The next musical collaboration however, made musical history in both record sales and in influencing the direction of popular music. The Weavers were a folk singing quartet based in New York and were partly an outgrowth of the Almanac Singers from the early forties. The guiding spirit behind both these groups was Pete Seeger. The Weavers were reportedly brought to Decca records by Jenkins with the idea of combining their vocal style to that of the big orchestra and chorus. The idea worked better than anybody could have hoped. "Tzena Tzena Tzena" a Jewish folk song sung in hora tempo, and "Goodnight Irene" from the memorable folk artist Leadbelly (Huddie Leadbetter) was a massive hit. A double million seller at the time and a number one best seller, it got America singing for the second half of the year remaining a top seller for more than six months. The follow up recording "So Long It's Been Good To Know Ya`", another Leadbelly tune, also did very well getting to the number six position and remaining on the charts for more than three months. Ironically, the big hits with the Weavers were the last big successes that Gordon Jenkins had as a Decca recording artist. The following year saw only limited potential on the best seller list with brief stays on the charts for "Unless", "Rose Rose I Love You", "Whispering", and "Charmaine".
Being musical director for Decca records in the late forties and early fifties gave Jenkins an opportunity to perform on many big sellers such as "Little White Lies" by Dick Haymes which was a million seller in 1949, and "It's All In The Game" by Louis Armstrong. A good selling album in 1956 was "The Complete Manhattan Tower" from a work originally written in 1945. Gordon Jenkins tried his hand at writing for Broadway with the score for "Along Fifth Avenue". Some great work with Frank Sinatra included the songs "There's No You" and "Lonesome Town". Some of the compositions written by Jenkins include "Blue Prelude", "P.S. I Love You", "San Fernando Valley" and "I Thought About Marie". Some of the other performers he has recorded with as conductor or arranger are : Judy Garland, Nat Cole, Peggy Lee, Ethel Merman, and Martha Tilton.
Gordon Jenkins tallied nine top ten records, three million sellers, and two number one recordings. His hallmark was the lush tuneful arranging and conducting of sentimental ballads featuring singular vocals and choral arrangements. The sound of his recordings of the late forties and early fifties was a document of that time in American popular music when the record you bought was handcrafted to last longer than a month.
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