Cornbread : Hal Singer ©2004JCMarion


Harold (Hal) Singer was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1919. A talented young musician, he could play the violin, piano, and especially the reed instruments. he soon found that he preferred the tenor saxophone most of all. He quit college at Hampton Institute in Virginia to go out on the road as a musician with a territory band led by Terrence Holder. This led to other local bands such as Ernie Fields, Ed Christian, and Nat Towles. In 1942 while a member of the band of Lloyd Hunter, Singer stayed in Kansas City and became part of that city's musical scene. He was part of the Tommy Douglas band until he joined the great K.C. band of Jay McShann. Singer then moved to New York and spent the mid forties with the bands of Earl Bostic, Big Sid Catlett, Don Byas, and Roy Eldridge.

In 1947 Singer joined the band of Oran "Hot Lips" Page and soon developed a two tenor team with Texan Tom Archia. Soon Singer and Archia were part of the house band for King Records in 1947 and 48. By mid 1948 Singer had formed his own small combo and did session work for Newark, New Jersey based Savoy Records. He was soon signed to the label and recorded the instrumental "Cornbread". It became a huge hit on the R & B charts that year, and gave Singer a new nickname. Now a big draw on the personal appearance circuit, he recorded a followup tune called "Beef Stew" which although a good seller, was no match for his first record for the label.

In January of 1950, Hal Singer and his combo are big box office on tour with The Orioles at Baltimore's Royal Theater. After the dates with the Orioles are done, he takes off on a new series of one nighters throughout the South with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers featuring Charles Brown. In the spring Hal and his band are the first Black entertainment act to play the Savoy Cafe in Boston. In July Singer moves from Savoy records to the Mercury label. In November his first side for Mercury is released - "Fine As Wine" and "Rock Around The Clock" on # 8196. In May of 1951 Hal Singer joins with Helen Humes and Joe Turner on a tour of the Midwest , and at about that time, Singer moves to another label, this time Decca's subsidiary label Coral Records. In September, Coral # 65070 is released featuring Hal and his combo on the tunes "Blue Velvet" and "Buttermilk And Beans".

At the Apollo Theater in New York in February of 1952, there is a big "battle of the bands" featuring Singer, Lowell Fulson, and Ray Charles. In March Coral Records releases "I Hear A Rhapsody" and "Easy Street" on # 60669. Sarah Vaughn joins Singer and his band for an R & B river boat cruise in Washington D.C. In June. In July Hal does an interesting date in Atlantic City for one week backing up Billie Holiday. In August Singer changes labels once again, this time returning to Savoy Records. His first outing is with Florence Wright with a rhythm & blues version of the country-pop hit "I Went To Your Wedding". In September Savoy releases "Indian Love Call" and "The Frog Hop" on # 861. In October Coral pulls one off the shelf with Singer's versions of "Secret Love" and "Please Doctor Jive" on 65098.

In February of 1953, the Hal Singer combo stays for a week's engagement at Pep's in Philadelphia. During that time he and his combo record with the Four Buddies and Dolly Cooper for Savoy. His five piece combo consists of Singer on tenor sax, Kenny Owens on piano, Jim Cannady on guitar, Jimmy Lewis on bass, and Bobby Donaldson on drums. He then embarks on a month tour of one nighters in the Midwest. He records for Savoy and his band cuts the tunes "Easy Living" and "Home Town" released on # 890. In 1954 there are tours of the South and a long stay in Philadelphia, followed by a West Coast tour with The Ravens. By June of 1955 Hal Singer decides to quit the road, and remain in New York City and concentrate on studio and freelance work as soon as all tour obligations are met. These include a Southern tour with Earl King in the fall, and a six week tour with the "Lucky Seven Blues Show". Late in 1955 Hal records "Hot Rod" and "Rock And Roll" on Savoy # 1179. In early 1956 "Hot Rod" is such a big instrumental hit that Singer decides to remain on the road in support of his record.

In February of 1956 Hal appears at Hunter Hancock's big "Rock 'n Roll Jubilee" at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. In March at Buffalo's Club Zanzibar, WKBW deejay George "The Hound" Lorenz honors Singer as having the biggest instrumental hit of the year and a top ten seller in the area. In June, Singer's original version of "Cornbread" from 1949 is listed as one of the top fifteen greatest R & B instrumentals ever. In July Singer covers "Movin And Groovin" and "Crossroads" on Savoy # 1194. In march of 1957 "Catnip" and "Early Hours" are released on DeLuxe # 6114. Late in 1957, Ann Cole, Little Willie John, and Hal Singer and his band hit the road for a series of one nighters throughout the South. In 1958 Jamie Records of Philadelphia acquires a number of master recordings by Hal Singer from Teddy McRae originally on sessions for Savoy.

Hal Singer spends the late fifties appearing on many R B, rock, and jazz package shows. He also records some jazz works for the Prestige label. He has a long running gig at New York City's Metropole where he joins many swing jazz veterans for on stage jam sessions. After an early nineteen sixties European tour with Earl Hines, Singer remains in Europe settling in France and becoming a member of the ex-pat musical community. He records for the French labels Black & Blue, Pathe, Le Chant du Monde, and Futura. He has made a number of international tours with various musicians, and appeared in the film "Taxi Blues" in 1990. This interesting film about life in Russia after the fall of the Communist regime, gives Singer a chance to play his own life-an American sax player who likes the musicianship of a Russian tenor player who is fighting his alcoholic excesses. In the film Singer is the way out for the Russian. It is further ironic that about this same time the world was re-discovering another ex-pat American sax player - Dexter Gordon, in the French made "Round Midnight".

Hal Singer was one of the many session players that were so often uncredited on many classic R & B recordings. In his case however, two all time classics live on - "Cornbread" and "Hot Rod", that also serve to keep alive the memory of tenor sax man Hal Singer. There are a few available CDs containing the music of Hal Singer -

"Blue Stompin" originally recorded in 1959 on Jazz Classics from 1996

"Rent Party" on Savoy # 1147 from 1996

"Hal Singer : 1948-1951" Classics # 5073

"The Big Horn" 5 tracks on the compilation Proper Box CD

to next page . . . . . . .

back to title page . . . . .