WASHINGTON, June 6, 2012 — 1952: She was 25 years old.
With the sudden passing of her father, King George VI, Elizabeth immediately ascended to the throne. Her realm consisted of a quarter of the globe and one-fourth of its inhabitants.
Yes, the King was dead. But the Crown was not. It would be fitted to a new head. She was now Queen Elizabeth II, the sixth woman in history to rule over England. And in her very name the people of Britain saw a good omen. The second Elizabethan Age had begun, perpetuating the continuity of fealty to the Crown. “The King is dead,” the people chanted. “Long live the Queen.”
Now, sixty years later, the Queen still lives. She is 86 years old and we watched as the Diamond Jubilee celebrates her reign. The choirs and the people sang, chanted and shouted, “God save the Queen.” We watch the ceremony on television in vivid living color. This is in contrast to her coronation, which I recall seeing on a 12-inch Motorola television set in blurry black and white.
To be honest, my interest in the royalty was not all that keen in 1952. After all, I was a 15-year-old high school sophomore. My three interests at the time were popular music, movies, and baseball. It was a wonderful year for popular music, that 1952.
1952: He was 25 years old.
His dream of becoming a nationally recognized singer had come amazingly true. At the beginning of this year, he had packed the Paramount Theatre in Manhattan with screaming girls much as Frank Sinatra had done a decade before him.
His name was Anthony Dominick Benedetto from Astoria, Queens, N.Y. When the legendary Bob Hope discovered the young singer, however, he suggested he change his name to Tony Bennett. And as Tony Bennett, the tenor quickly scored a one-two punch. One, his lyrical “Because of You” sold more than a million copies.
Two, under the supervision of Columbia Records A&R man Mitch Miller, Bennett recorded a country song by Hank Williams, “Cold, Cold Heart, ” which also scored big on the record charts. Now, in 1952, Tony Bennett was a household name. He felt like a king.
Critics, however, struggled to define Bennett’s rough velvet voice. Time magazine said it was “slick as sandpaper.” Some wondered if he had the staying power of, say, a Bing Crosby.
Then 59 year later, his latest album, “Duets II,” was released in 2011, concomitant with his 85th birthday. In it he sings with the young contemporary singers of today. It debuted at the No. 1 spot, making Tony Bennett the oldest living singer ever to debut at the #1 spot on Billboard. Tony Bennett, a diamond in the rough, and still sparkling at 86 years of age.
1952: She was 25 years old.
Since childhood, she had sung on the local radio in her Kentucky hometown. Now, however, two of the biggest names in show business history were beckoning her to Hollywood to work with them on a major motion picture. It would be a remake of the 1942 musical, “Holiday Inn” with all songs composed by Irving Berlin.
This time, however, the film would be in brilliant Technicolor and wide-screen VistaVision. Also the name would be changed to that of the previous picture’s most famous song, “White Christmas.” The two giant stars were to be Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye; and Rosemary would be romping along with them in what would become a hit movie and, over the years, an annual family event on television.
Rosemary Clooney had a smooth, lilting voice, which hit the center of the note every time. Strangely, however, A&R man Mitch Miller had guided her break into national exposure on Columbia Records in 1951 with a novelty song she delivered with an accent: “Come On-a My House, “featuring a jazz harpsichord, and an Italian ditty titled, “Botch-a-Me.” Both were major hits.
Later came the ballads which earned her the title of Number One Popular Songstress: “Half As Much,” “Trust In Me,” “Hey There,” and in 1952, her signature song, “Tenderly.” Rosemary set a standard in both pop and jazz. Even though she went through some personal difficult times, she had the unwavering affection of music lovers everywhere, right up until her death ten years ago this month. Serving as a pallbearer for his Aunt Rosie was Academy Award winner George Clooney.
1952: He was 25 years old.
Some might have questioned his voice, but no one could deny the uniqueness of his style. He captured the attention of America. How could he not? He had two special gimmicks: showmanship and tears.
That’s right. When he sang, “Cry,” Johnnie Ray really cried. When he wailed, “If your heartaches seem to hang around too long…,” it sounded like his own heart was breaking. In just eight weeks, Johnnie Ray’s debut record on the Okey label sold more than a million copies. The flipside was a song he himself wrote, “The Little White Cloud That Cried.”
Disc jockeys couldn’t say which song was more responsible for the incredible sales. What is known is that Billboard magazine listed “Cry” as the No. 1 hit of the year, and “Cloud” as No. 2 on the chart. “Cry” also listed as No. 1 on the R&B Best Sellers chart and “Cloud” peaked at No. 6. Not bad for a newcomer’s first record.
Immediately, Ray’s asking price jumped from $90 to $2,000. He would further shock the world by recording some tender ballads such as “Please Mr. Sun.” Younger people today don’t remember Johnnie Ray, but he brought a new style to the stage. He was definitely a predecessor of Elvis Presley with his showmanship gyrations. Those old enough to remember hold a special place for this kindly man who was called “the Prince of Wails.”
1952: It was a great year. Great music, and its great singers are worthy of remembering in this Diamond Jubilee year.
Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as Paul Harvey, William Safire, and Shirley Povich. Vance has shared his life experiences and knowledge of D.C. with the Washington Historical Society, the Kiwanis clubs of the Washington area, and on WAMU’s “Kojo Nnamdi Show.”
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