The Sound Of An Era : The Modernaires©2008JCMarion


The Modernaires had their beginning in Lafayette High School in Buffalo, New York inthe nineteen thirties. The members were Harold Dickenson, Chuck Goldstein, and Bill Conway. They moved the act to New York City where they were joined by Ralph Brewster and soon had jobs as vocalists with the bands of George Hall, Ozzie Nelson, and Charlie Barnet. With Barnet they recorded the first version of "Make Believe Ballroom Time" and "The Milkman's Matinee" which became famous theme songs during the Big Band Era. They also appeared with the bands of Ted Fio Rito, Paul Whiteman, and Ray Noble. When Glenn Miller left Noble to form his own band he had The Modernaires record with the band. One of the first recordings was a remake of "It's Make Believe Ballroom Time" . The group became a permanent part of the band which became the most popular orchestra of the era.

The Moderaires were part of a number of best selling records with the band. Paula Kelly joined the group in 1941 (she was the wife of Hal Dickenson) as did Marion Hutton for a short time. Following Miller entering military service in 1942, and Miller's subsequent disappearance, the group recorded with a number of Miller reunion bands. In 1944 they moved to Columbia Records and had many personnel changes. Among the new members were John Drake, Hal Tennyson, and Fran Scott. In the summer of 1945 The Modernaires had their first big seller on their own with "There I've Said It Again" on Columbia # 36800. It was a top ten seller. They also appeared in the motion picture "Don Chicago" that year. Other Columbia records by the group included "Autumn Serenade" and "Coffee At Five" on # 36878, and a year later they did a "Salute To Glenn Miller" which featured a medley of "Elmer's Tune" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo" on # 36992 which made it into the top twenty , and a collaboration with David Rose on "Holiday For Strings" / "To Each His Own" on # 37063. In mid 1946 the group made an appearance in the picture "Frontier Frolic". In August of 1946 "To Each His Own" (a big hit for Eddie Howard) on # 37063 did well as it got to number three in the nation and remained on the best seller charts for four months. Early in 1947 The Modernaires hit the best sellers again with "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" from Walt Disney's film "Song Of The South". The Columbia release on # 37147 was another top ten seller."Connecticut" and "My Heart Goes Crazy" on # 37220, followed as did "Hoodle Addle" and "It's Loving Time" on # 37266, "Santa Catalina" and "I Want To Be Loved" on # 37328, "Can't Get Off The Horse" "Too Much To Dream" on # 37485, and "Something In The Wind" and "The Turntable Song" on # 37569.

Moving into mid 1947 the Columbia records continued with "Say It With A Slap" and "Our Hour" on # 37876, and "Jingle Bell Polka" and "The Whistler" on# 37980. Other records for Columbia included two recordings with Doris Day - "Thoughtless" and "I've Only Myself To Blame" on # 38079, and "It's The Sentimental Thing To Do" and the interesting title "A Quiet Town In Crossbones County" on # 38159 in December of the year. In 1948 Alan Copeland became part of the group with Vernon Polk, Tom Traynor, and Chuck Kelly also serving with the group at different times. "Pennies From Heaven" and "Mm Mm Good" on # 38208 began the year 1948 for The Modernaires, followed along with "La Cucuracha" and "The Dummy Song" on# 38305, "Rock It For Me" / "Stardust" on # 38401, "Ain't Misbehavin" and "Margie" on # 38403, and "Busy Doing Nothing" and "Johnny Get Your Girl" on # 38416. Starting out in 1949 the movie tune "Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend" and "Senora" was issued on # 38505", followed by "Wishing Star" and "On Account Because I Love You" on # 38588, the movie song "My Friend Irma" and "Love Happy" on # 38589, and then in late 1949 they backed Frank Sinatra on "Sorry" (which charted briefly) coupled with a Sinatra solo vocal on "Why Remind Me" on # 38662. During the year The Modernaires appeared in the movie "Home In San Antone". "Hometown Band" and "Olly Olly Oxen Free" on #38688, and "The Big Movie Show In The Sky" and "Yodel Blues" on #38692 closed out 1949. In January of 1950 The Modernaires recorded again with Frank Sinatra. The songs were "When The Sun Goes Down" and "Kisses And Tears" on # 38790, and again with "The Old Master Painter" and "Lost In The Stars" on # 338650. "Painter" was a solid national hit getting as high as number thirteen in the country and staying on the charts for close to three months. "Rubber Knuckle Sam" and "Down The Lane" on # 38791, and "Java Jive" and "Schenectady" on# 38883 ended the Modernaires tenure at Columbia Records.

By 1951 the group had moved on to Coral, part of the Decca Records company. They began 1951 with "Lovely Is The Evening" and "Wishing You Were Here Tonight" on Coral # 60408, and followed it with two tunes from Walt Disney pictures - "Alice In Wonderland" and "I'm Late" on # 60439, and "You Will Always Be The Sweetheart Of My Dreams" and "Wings On My Wishes" on # 60504. Late in the year the group recorded with swing era veteran vocalist Martha Tilton on the songs "Out Of Breath" and "Please Don't Cry" on # 60522. Starting out in 1952 The Moderaires recorded the strangely titled song "October 32nd, 1992" with "Stompin At The Savoy" on # 60609 and followed it with "Dipsy Doodle" and "I'll Always Be Following You" on # 60658, "Goody Goody" and "Bugle Call Rag" on # 60726, "Four Or Five Times" / "When My Love Comes Back" on # 60824, and "Wildflower" and "It's Gotta Be This Or That" on # 60881. The Modernaires went back to their past success with "New Juke Box Saturday Night" and "Running Wild" on # 60899. The group covered Perry Como's "Say You're Mine Again" coupled with "He Who Has Love" on # 60982, and recorded "Put Some Money In The Juke Box" and "Rock-A-Bye Boogie" on # 61037 in early 1953, and "The Other Side Of Me" on # 61083. The group appeared in two motion pictures that year - "Walking My Baby Back Home" and an obvious choice for "The Glenn Miller Story" which starred Jimmy Stewart in the title role. Later in the year an interesting salute to Glenn Miller recorded for Coral on # 61110 was "Highlights Of Glenn Miller" parts one and two. That was followed in early 1954 by "This Must Be The Place" and "How I Love You" by the group presented as "The Four Guys Of The Modernaires" on # 61160. Paula Kelly received feature billing on # 61199 with "That's You That's Me That's Love" and "I Know Why". The "Four Guys" returned with "Half Hearted Kisses" and "Mine" on # 61252. Paula Kelly returned to the studio with the group for "Mood Indigo" and "Teach Me Tonight" with Georgie Auld and his combo in early 1955 on Coral # 61296. Coral # 61348 paired the songs "Mine Mine Mine" and "Birds And Puppies And Tropical Fish". The Modernaires tried a bit of "Your Hit Parade" feel with their next record called "Tops 'n Pops" parts oner and two on # 61378. During the second half of 1955 the group recorded with two long standing stars of the big band years. First with the Bob Crosby Orchestra was "Slewfoot" and "Wine Women And Gold" on # 61412, follwed by "la Festa" and "Just Like He Used To Do" on # 61449, and with Les Brown & His Band of Reknown, the songs "Wake Up The Place" and a new version of their thirties theme song "Milkman's matinee" on # 61490. They tried their hand at the modern sound with cover versions of "At My Front Door" and "All Right Okay You Win" on # 61513. The group closed out the year with a seasonal "Santa's Sleighbells" and "Sleepy Little Space Cadet" on # 61547.

In 1956 as rock 'n roll became the music of choice of the great per centage of record buyers The Modernaires continued on. They started out the year with "Go On With The Wedding" and "Ain't She Sweet" on # 61555, "The Let's Dance Medley" parts one and two on # 61568 followed by "April In Paris" and "Hi Diddle I Do" on # 61599, and "Ask For Joe" and "Ninety Eight Cents" on # 61674. An interesting pairing was next as the group recorded with radio personality Al "Jazzbo" Collins on the songs "The Spaceman" and "Jazzbo's Theory" on # 61693, followed by "I'm Ready To Love Again" and "Noah" on #61764. Another swing era presentation was next opening 1957 with "Salute To Tommy Dorsey Medley" parts one and two on # 61779, "Cinderella Baby" and "Calypso Melody" on # 61837, "A Foggy Day In London Town" and "Making Whoopee" on # 61873, and "Act Your Age" and "As Long As I Have You" on # 61949. By 1958 the group knew that attempting to hit it big in record sales via the 45 rpm single was a longshot at best, and so they concentrated on personal appearances, television work, and material for the LP album format. Their TV appearances included the Steve Allen Show, the Bell telephone Hour, and George Gobel. In the early sixties The Modernairs did record a few singles for United Artists Records. These include "Moonlight Serenade" and "Caribbean Clipper" on UA # 1537, "Lil' Brown Jug" and "Stardust" on # 1541, and "Mr. Lucky" and "Bill Bailey" on # 422. In 1964 they toured with old Miller bandmates Tex Beneke and vocalist Ray Eberle in a show called "Music Made Famous By Glenn Miller" which played across the country recapturing great memories for many forty somethings (and others) everywhere.

Today The Modernaires still make wonderful music. Two daughters of Hal Dickinson and Paula Kelly - Paula Kelly Jr. and Julie Dickinson, along with Joe Croyle and Jim Stephens comprise the group that has been a musical entity for three quarters of a century ! I would say that is longevity with a capitol "L" ! Modernaires music survives on a number of cd issues. Probably the best is a four volume set from Collectables that have been released in recent years. "The Complete Modernaires" volumes 1 - 4 offers more than eighty tracks from the recording history of this fabulous vocal group. Other titles are "Singing And Swinging", a fourteen track cd from Varese Sarabande in 1998. Another cd is a rather short ten track Sony release called "Juke Box Saturday Night" from 2001 and "String Of Pearls" from Circle in 2005. A last oddly named and rather obscure session resulted in "Hooray For Spinach" by The Modernaires with Paul Whiteman & The Swing Wing. This is a twenty six track cd from 2005 on Hep.

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