The Sound of an Era - Henri Rene ©2000 JCMarion


Despite the French heritage apparent in his name, Henri Rene was born in Germany. To further his interest and talent in music, he was an accomplished pupil during his younger years which led to his acceptance at the Berlin Royal Academy of Music for study in both piano and musical composition. In the nineteen twenties, he first visited the United States and remained for two years gaining experience as a member of various orchestras as pianist and guitarist. Because of his European background, he was selected as leader of an American band on an extensive tour of the continent in 1926. At this time he seemed torn between his familiarity with Europe, and the opportunities that existed in the United States.

Rene opted to stay in Germany during the late twenties and into the thirties. He became the house arranger for the leading record company in the country and later became a composer, arranger, and musical director for the German cinema. The ominous political landscape in Europe and the rise of the Nazi party to power in Germany, led to Rene's return to the United States for good in 1935. In the late thirties he became the head of international operations for RCA Victor, and soon began to produce music under his own name. He was partial to an instrument called the musette, which was originally a French version of the bagpipes, and later evolved into a version of the accordion, that has a distinct sound. He formed an orchestra around this instrument and it featured music with a European style. In 1940 he had his first success with a tune called "Lo-lo Lita" (#771). This was followed the next year with "Pound Your Table Polka" (#783), both top twenty records and listed as by Rene's Musette Orchestra. During the second world war Rene served his adopted country by lending his talents to special services in the armed forces producing entertainment and instruction for service shows to boost morale of the troops in the battle zones.

After the war ended, Rene returned to RCA Victor Records as an arranger and musical director. He began to record an assortment of musical styles such as symphonic, semi-classical, and popular melodies. In 1948 he made the charts for RCA Victor with his version of the hit song "Toolie Oolie Doolie" (#1114) which featured a vocal by the group called The Three-O-Niners. He also recorded a lovely orchestration of the song "Intermezzo". Rene's next chart success was another cover record of a hit - this time it was his version of "The Song From Moulin Rouge (Where Is Your Heart ?)" (#5264), a hit for Percy Faith on Columbia. The Rene version featured a vocal by Alvey West and reached the top twenty five list. At about this time Rene combined talents with Hugo Winterhalter for RCA Victor and the result was the tune "The Velvet Glove" (#5405) with Rene on musette with the orchestra directed by Winterhalter. By now Rene was in the position of augmenting Winterhalter as the leading arranger and musical director for RCA Victor's considerable roster of vocalists.

Rene and his orchestra appeared on recordings featuring Tony Martin, Fran Warren, Mindy Carson, Lisa Kirk, Dinah Shore, and on Perry Como's big hit of "No Other Love" which was adapted from a theme song from the episode "Beneath The Southern Cross" from from the TV documentary "Victory At Sea". He also recorded with Maurice Chevalier on a revival of his signature tune "Louise". In 1951 Rene backed up new vocalist April Stevens (years before her pop hits of the 60s with brother Nino Tempo) with three charted records. "I'm In Love Again" was a solid hit getting as high as the number six position and remaining on the charts for four months. "Gimme A Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh?" was a top ten hit, and the third record of the year was "And So To Sleep Again", which charted briefly.

The biggest seller of Rene's career as featured artist was another cover record, this one in 1954. The song was "The Happy Wanderer (Val-de-Ri)" (#5715) which was an original hit for Swiss musician Frank Weir. Rene's version did very well for RCA, spending four months on the charts and getting into the top ten sellers in the country. As the advent of the LP as a recording vehicle for orchestral and concept music became pronounced in the mid fifties, Rene was featured on a number of projects for RCA. Among these were "Music For Bachelors" (#1046), "Compulsion To Swing" (#1947) and "Riot In Rhythm" (#2002). Continued as a recording executive with RCA into the late fifties, when he went out on his own to develop personal musical projects.

Although he might have been somewhat in the shadow of Hugo Winterhalter at RCA during the Interlude Era of American popular music, Henri Rene was certainly a worthy provider of many musical memories during this golden age of the pop standards. His orchestrations, arrangements, and performances, are the ingredients of the musical reflections of the way we were during the decade that followed the war. The engaging and memorable sound of the musette (especially on the tune "The Velvet Glove") is a memory worth keeping. Henri Rene - the sound of an era.

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