Friday, October 29, 2010

Wilberforce Whiteman

What? You don't remember Wilberforce Whiteman?
I have such fun deciding who to pick on each week for this little blog! I was thinking about a conversation I had with a fellow drummer in our high school band. I asked him whom he thought was the most accomplished band leader of the time. Without hesitation he said "Paul Whiteman". I had not paid much attention to Whiteman until then, and I suppose more to impress Greg than from actual knowledge, I agreed. And then I began to buy his recordings. Well, anyway, in my research on Paul Whiteman I came across the name Wilberforce Whiteman. Wilberforce was Paul's father, a music teacher. (The only other person I have ever run across with that name is a character on "Are You Being Served" a British comedy.)

Paul was born in 1890. Quite naturally, his father taught him music and he earned a place in the San Francisco Symphony as a violinist. In 1918 he formed his own band and eventually became know as the "King of Jazz". His band played in various hotels, and toured Europe. In 1924 he staged a symphonic jazz concert, which some say is the true beginning of the "jazz age." It was held in the Aeolian Hall which at the time was a "sanctuary" of classical music. Special compositions were written for this concert by both Victor Herbert and George Gershwin. Rhapsody In Blue was introduced that night with Gershwin at the piano. Whiteman paid out of pocket for this event and it cost him a lot of money! Rhapsody in Blue became Paul's theme song.

The the late twenties Whiteman was the biggest name in music. His band had 34 pieces, and he paid his musicians extremely well (for the time) at $150 - $575 a week)
Other bands were forced to pay their good musicians higher wages, too, in order to keep them.

Many bandleaders of the mid-twenties era were getting into radio, but Whiteman did not until 1928 when he went on air for Old Gold cigarettes with "The Old Gold Orchestra." When Kraft cheese sponsored him in 1933 he called his band The Paul Whiteman Band. Meanwhile, he made a movie called The King Of Jazz. This was the first of several movies in which he took part. His band evolved more into a show unit than a dance band, although he occasionally did dance engagements.

In the mid-forties, Whiteman, with a smaller band and a vocalist, continued to do some shows. He continued as a dominant force in the music business, became musical director for the Blue Radio Network, dropped the "King of Jazz" title and took '"Dean of Modern American Music". As live radio decreased and disc jockeys took over, Paul did that for a brief period on ABC. He replaced Jackie Gleason on television in the summer in 1955, which featured different great dance bands of the day each week.

I found it odd that in his seventies he became involved in the promotion of sports car racing in both Florida and California.

Some of the people whose careers were given a hand up by Whiteman are: Don Clark, Charlie Margulis, both Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, The Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker, Harry Barris), Bob Lawrence, Johnny Mercer, Paul Robeson, Billie Holiday and a woman pianist who was billed as "Romano and her Grand Piano".

Some of the songs Whiteman recorded were: Wang Wang Blues, Say It With Music, I'll Build a Stairway to the Stars, Linger Awhile, My Blue Heaven - the list is very long. He did a fast version of "Old Man River" with Bing as vocalist; and then a slow, more traditional version. Two of my favorites were "WIllow Weep for Me" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". From the varied pieces he recorded and played in live stage performances, I conclude he really loved music and had a good time with all types.

Paul Whiteman was married four times, the last one to Margaret Livingston. She was with him until his death at the age of 77.

Next time if I can find enough information I will bring you Jane Morgan, a extraordinarily accomplished vocalist who has a home and theater connections to Kennebunkport, Maine.

jan major
hobby organist, Scarborough, Maine

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