Dolly's Lullaby : Toni Harper©2008JCMarion


Toni Harper was born in Los Angeles in June of 1937. Later on she had a big fan in 1950, none other than Martin Block the country's best known disc jockey. He must have had a spot for the young singer because it was her version of the Block written tune "Waiting For The Train To Come In" back in 1946 that won her a part in a stage revue in her home town of Los Angeles. Her timely performance as a singer and dancer led to a spot on the Eddie Cantor radio show. After her performance there, a recording session with Columbia Records came about a short time later. From her first date in the studio in early 1948 came a huge seller on the R & B charts and also a good seller in pop music markets. The song was "Candy Store Blues" on Columbia # 38229 (with "Dolly's Lullaby" on the other side). The tunes were recorded with the Eddie Beal Sextet. After the initial run of the record Harper's follow up was "Tabby The Cat" and "You're My Everything" on # 38265, again backed up by the Eddie Beal Sextet. Next up was "Bippity Be Bop Pony" and "Miss In Between Blues" on # 38430. Late in the year came an interesting duet recording with Herb Jeffries on the songs "You're Too Tall And I'm Too Small" and "Peppermint Stick" for Columbia on # 38541.

Later on in 1949 Harper performed at Carnegie Hall and Columbia released "The Muffin Man" and "Cinderella Baby" on # 38598. During the year Toni appears in two motion pictures - "Make Believe Ballroom" with many music stars such as Nat Cole & The King Cole Trio, Frankie Laine, Kay Starr, and many others. She also has a role in the film "Manhattan Angel". In March of 1950 Columbia releases "Rock-A-Bye My baby" and "It's Story Time Again" on # 38788, which was championed by the aforementioned Block on his "Make Believe Ballroom" radio program. In April Harper is mentioned as part of the cast of a proposed motion picture along with fellow child performer Sugar Chile Robinson and others for "Teenage Music Town" picture. In June Toni Harper makes her debut at the Apollo Theater in New York. She follows that engagement with two weeks at the Strand Theater on Broadway. Business is so good that the theater management requests an extension to include a third and fourth week. In early September Toni begins a week at Chicago's Regal Theater. She will headline and appear with Larry Darnell, Dusty Fletcher, Chubby Newsome, and the Paul Williams band.

Further records released by Columbia in the early nineteen fifties were "Floppy" and a cover of the pop hit "Chooin Gum" on # 38801, "Is That All I Mean To You?" and "Get Going Mr. Engineer" on # 38823, and "Happy Feet" and a cover of Bing and Gary Crosby's "Sam's Song" on Columbia # 38876. In 1951 "Dish Rag" and "Get Up" is released on # 38917, and the seasonal "Jingle Bells" and "Snowy White Snow" on # 38977 followed for Columbia. "Lovelight" and "Fruit Cake" on # 39877 is the last single recorded for Columbia in early 1952. Toni Harper now concentrated on finishing high school as she was moving from precocious youngster to a self assured young lady and her style of music changed with her age. In the mid nineteen fifties she went with Verve Records and Norman Granz who directed a more mature setting for Harper. She recorded with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra in November of 1955, and followed that up a month later by recording a studio session with the Oscar Peterson Trio with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. The results were "Gone With The Wind", "Like Someone In Love" and "Love For Sale" that were included on the album "Toni" for Verve LP# 2001. A Verve single followed - "I Telephoned I Telegraphed" and "We've Got To Live We've Got To Grow" on # 2005. In early 1956 Toni Harper recorded with the orchestra of Buddy Bregman with the songs "Love Is A Wonderful Thing" and "My Memory Book" on # 2015.

In the late nineteen fifties Toni changed labels again, this time to RCA Victor. From the late fifties until the early sixties Harper did a number of recording sessions for RCA which resulted in the following single recordings - "I'm Learning" and "Lazy River" on RCA # 77967, "What Am I?" and "Heavenly Love" on # 77981, and "Fallin'" and "Too Bad For Me" on # 8033 in 1962. There were also the RCA LP albums "Lady Lonely" in 1959 on # 2092, and "Night Mood" in 1960 on # 2253. Toni Harper left performing vocals in the mid sixties and a lovely voice was stilled. Over the years she has performed very infrequently, and as Toni Dunlap has devoted her time to other interests. She maintains her own web site to keep people aware of what she is involved in, such as the creation of a series of unique caftans. The three LP albums she recorded for Verve and RCA are available in cd format - "Toni" on Decca, and "Night Mood" and "Lady Lonely" on RCA import. All are a worthy listen to hear an original stylist that developed from a child star all those years ago. Toni Harper remains a part of American musical history, and one that should be discovered, OR re-discovered.

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