SAMMY KAYE - The Swing & Sway Guy ©1999JCMarion


Sammy Kaye was born in Rocky River, Ohio in 1910. He attended Ohio University where he started his own band and ran a dance club called the Varsity Inn. During the 1930's extensive personal appearances and radio work in Cinncinati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh led to national popularity. Kaye developed a style with singing song titles, and So You Want To Lead A Band audience participation gimmick. He appeared in the movies "Iceland" and "Song Of The Open Road" in the early forties. The Kaye orchestra recorded a huge hit "Daddy" (written by a young musician named Bobby Troupe) in 1941, and Sammy Kaye wrote the WWII curio "Remember Pearl Harbor". The greatest credit to the band's style and popularity is the fact that in the Interlude years of 1946-1955 after the fall of the big bands, the Sammy Kaye orchestra remained the best selling band on record. World famous for it's slogan "Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye", the orchestra had a sporadic career on radio and television. On radio Kaye and the band was a featured attraction on both the Saturday Night Serenade for Pet Milk during the early forties and Spotlight Bands for Coca Cola during the late forties, and on radio and television with versions of So You Want To Lead A Band ?, a successful format with audience participation which was unique during the big band era.

By 1946 the Sammy Kaye band was a veteran crew with much success as recording artists. Ten straight top ten records including two number one sides ("Daddy" and "Dream Valley") were out on RCA Victor from 1941-1945. The big band years were as good as gone by the time 1946 began, but you wouldn't have guessed it by the way that the Sammy Kaye orchestra opened the year with a blockbuster hit called "I'm A Big Girl Now" with a fine vocal by Betty Barclay which went all the way to number one. The next release to hit the charts was the Kaye version of the biggest song of the year "The Gypsy". Despite a slew of recorded versions of the tune, the Sammy Kaye rendition with vocal by Nancy Norman made it as high as number four on the best seller list. "Laughing On The Outside" was another top ten hit for the band who introduced it. The band ended the year with another recording that made it to the number one position "The Old Lamplighter" with vocal again by Billy Williams, a fine baritone who also recorded as a solo for RCA Victor singing songs of the old west. The Kaye aggregation had one more top ten hit that year - "Sooner Or Later".

The following year began with a solid selling version of "That's My Desire" which topped out at the number three position and remained on the charts for four months. The recording by the band is especially surprising because they actually outsold Frankie Laine by a wide margin even though Laine has long been associated with the song as his breakthrough performance. "An Apple Blossom Wedding" was the next big seller for the band, and they closed out the year on the hit parade with "Serenade Of The Bells" another big seller that again topped out at number three and remained on the charts for four months. After seventeen straight top ten charting records since 1941, the new year's first foray on to the best seller list just missed at number eleven - "Tell Me A Story" was the record, and it was followed by a lesser hit called "Baby Face", the 1928 tune made famous by Eddie Cantor and featured in the film "Jolson Sings Again" which had a short stay on the charts. The third and final charted effort of 1948 was the hit song from the Disney film "So Dear To My Heart" - "Lavender Blue". Even though the original soundtrack version by Dinah Shore was a massive hit, the Kaye version still managed to go to number five on the hit parade and last on the charts for almost four months.

The year 1949 began with the band releasing their first 45 rpm single "Powder Your Face With Sunshine / Careless Hands". The two sided hit stayed around for five months on the charts with 'Hands' the bigger seller of the two. A big voice with the band propelled the next recording to the number three position on the best seller charts. Don Cornell who had been a vocalist with the band off and on since 1942 had a big booming baritone and an individual style. His vocal on the band's "Roomful Of Roses" with the Kaydets vocal group kept the record on the listing for six months, the entire second half of the year. Even more amazing is the fact that at about the same time two other releases by the band were also selling well enough to make the hit parade. "The Four Winds And Seven Seas" made it to the number seven position, and "Baby It's Cold Outside" featuring Don Cornell on vocal made it in the top fifteen and stayed on the charts for ten weeks. That was quite a feat for an orchestra at this late date in the history of the big bands-three records simultaneously on the best seller charts in late 1949 !

The first chart success of the following year wound up being the largest selling record the band ever had. Even though it never made it to the number one position, the recording sold in great numbers week after week. The song was "It Isn't Fair" which was originally introduced by Richard Himber and his orchestra back in 1933, and it featured a dramatic vocal by Don Cornell and equally dramatic orchestration by the band. Even though though a sound-a-like sequel called "Play It Fair" was not a success, the push from this massive hit gave Don Cornell the impetus to go out and make it as a solo performer in the near future. The next chart appearance by the band in 1950 was with the song "Wanderin`" which peaked at the number eleven spot. This tune was based on an old American folk song that had it's origins in Minnesota and was uncovered by Carl Sandberg. The song "Roses", originally introduced by The Sons Of The Pioneers, was a moderate hit for the band later on in the year. Midway through the year the band made a major change-going from RCA Victor records where it had been a mainstay since the middle of 1938 when they came from the Vocalion label, and now moving to the Columbia label. It looked like a good move for Columbia when the band's first charted release for their new company "Harbor Lights" went all the way to the number one position and stayed on the best seller list for six months, one of their biggest hits ever. The song was first done by Rudy Vallee in 1937, and was used as background music in the 1940 film "Long Voyage Home". This number one record came a full decade after the band's initial number one, but it was to be the swan song for the Sammy Kaye orchestra as far as top ten selling records are concerned.

The year of 1951 was the last one that saw the band get into the national best seller charts. "Longing For You" and "You" barely touched the top thirty. The next release "Walking To Missouri" did much better lasting a respectable 13 weeks on the charts and denting the top twenty. The final recording to enter the hit parade was "In The Mission Of St. Augustine" which was a moderate hit that got as high as number fifteen on the best sellers.The band made one quick appearance on the hit list in later years, in fact during the year of Beatlemania 1964 with "Charade". Two albums charted very briefly in 1956 for Columbia-"My Fair Lady(For Dancing)" and "What Makes Sammy Swing And Sway". The Sammy Kaye orchestra wound up charting 13 records in the top ten and three number one hits during the Interlude Years. The great enduring popularity of the band made it a top draw in person and on record long after most of the "name" bands were but a memory. The band's many trademarks - the singing song titles, the theme song appearing on recordings behind the leader's introduction of the vocalist, the female vocalists almost always having first and last names beginning with the same letter, and the wavering notes of the slide guitar leading into the vocal - served to make the Kaye aggregation a familiar and comfortable one. That relationship with the listening audience made for the great acceptance and popularity the band enjoyed for all those memorable years.

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