The Ink Spots and comedian “Slappy” White opened at Tiffany Club on July 10, 1953. The following capsule history of The Ink Spots from the Rhino online site details the importance of the original concept that established a benchmark for harmonizing vocal groups. Newspaper coverage of the group touring during 1953 noted that the current name being used was “The New Ink Spots” and earlier in late 1952 “Charlie’s Ink Spots.” Members of the quartet pictured in newspapers were “Deek” Watson, Jimmy Holmes, Harold Jackson and Charlie Fuqua. When the group toured the Near East and the West Coast in 1954 Essex Scott replaced Watson.
In the words of soul singer Jerry Butler, a solo artist and founding member of the Impressions, “The Ink Spots were the heavyweight champions of quartet singing.” Clyde McPhatter, one-time singer with both the Dominoes and the Drifters, once admitted, “We patterned ourselves after the Ink Spots.” One of the first popular black groups, the Ink Spots can be regarded as forerunners of the doo-wop and rhythm & blues movements that followed. In the wake of their innovative harmonies came a slew of black vocal groups, including the Ravens, the Orioles, the Dominoes and the Drifters. The Ink Spots formed in Indianapolis in the late 1920s.
The original members were Orville “Hoppy” Jones, who was born on February 17, 1905; Ivory “Deek” Watson, who was born on July 18, 1909; Jerry Daniels, who was born on December 14, 1915, and Charlie Fuqua, who was born on October 20, 1910. They had gained early experience performing with such amateur groups as the Peanut Boys, the Percolating Puppies, the Four Riff Brothers and the Swingin’ Gate Brothers. The music of these early groups was influenced by jazz and vaudeville acts. The group’s original name was King, Jack and the Jesters. The members would improvise vocal harmonies, often simulating wind instruments with their voices. After achieving some Midwestern success as a result of live appearances on radio shows in Indianapolis, Cleveland and Cincinnati, the group relocated to New York in the early Thirties. After a legal conflict with bandleader Paul Whiteman, who had a vocal group called the King’s Jesters, King, Jack and the Jesters changed their name to the Ink Spots. The Ink Spots made appearances at the Apollo Theater, the Savoy Ballroom and the Roxy, and they got a regular radio gig on New York’s WJZ. In 1935, they signed with RCA Records. Though none of the six recordings they made for RCA sold well, they did earn the group its first tour of England and Europe. The following year, in 1936, they signed a new record deal with Decca Records, and Jerry Daniels was replaced by Bill Kenny. With Watson singing lead, the group’s sound was still very much the same as when the group started out. As Kenny once said, “This style wasn’t getting the group anywhere.” The Ink Spots were on the verge of breaking up when, in 1939, songwriter Jack Lawrence brought them a ballad called “If I Didn’t Care.” With Kenny singing lead, the record became a million-seller and inaugurated a string of hit ballads, including “My Prayer,” “Maybe,” “We Three,” “Whispering Grass,” “The Gypsy,” “To Each His Own” and “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” The Ink Spots toured the world and made appearances with such artists as Lucky Millinder and Glenn Miller. They also landed roles in such movies as The Great American Broadcast. The group remained popular with both black and white audiences through the postwar years and into the Fifties.
“Slappy” White began his career as a dancer and did not turn to comedy until 1940 when he joined with a fellow hoofer in the “Two Zephyrs” to replace one of its members who had previously passed away. White and his partner, Clarence Schelle, had appeared on The Major Bowes Amateur Hour. The “Two Zephyrs” made the circuits together for over four years appearing with such notables as Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and many others. With his team “Slappy” was first introduced to Californians, making his West Coast debut in Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theatre along with Louis Armstrong.
“Slappy’s” solo career started in 1951 when Dinah Washington requested him to introduce her act at the Black Hawk in San Francisco. White started out as a chauffeur to the singer, entertaining her with jokes as he drove. When she was late arriving on stage one evening, Washington, worried about the waiting audience, asked White to go on stage and “say something funny” while she prepared for her performance. “Slappy” was such a hit with the patrons, she kept him on as her opening act.
The double bill of The Ink Spots and “Slappy” White proved popular with patrons and the original two-week engagement was held over until Wednesday, July 29th when they closed at Tiffany.
June Christy returned to Tiffany Club two days later, opening on July 31, 1953. Her earlier engagement had been with a Vido Musso quartet but the ads on the Los Angeles Times did not specify who was providing accompaniment for Christy. Earlier in June Miss Christy had been part of the entertainment for graduating high school seniors in Long Beach at the Municipal Auditorium on June 18th. Christy traveled to Fresno for an engagement on June 25th at The Raindow, a nightclub/bar that regularly featured jazz. June Christy was part of an entertainment troupe that travelled to Korea at the beginning of 1953 to perform for American troops. In the fall she joined Stan Kenton for a European Tour. Christy’s short one-week engagement ended on August 8th.
Erroll Garner opened on August 14th. Whitney Balliett wrote an appreciation of Garner for The New Yorker in 1959 entitled “The Last of the Mohicans” — the excerpt that follows mentions Garner’s phenomenal facility in the recording studio, virtually recording everything required for an album in non-stop single takes. Garner’s trio that appeared at Tiffany is not identified in the Los Angeles Times ads or in Down Beat, but most likely it included Wyatt Ruther on bass and “Fats” Heard on drums, the two musicians that he recorded with during 1953. The engagement lasted a little over three weeks, closing on September 6th.
“Garner is already a genuine legend. During the past fifteen years, he has made more solo records than any other jazz pianist, alive or dead (between five hundred and a thousand for well over seventy labels, some of which, it is said, stay in existence by simply pirating his records back and forth), including a recent release, “Concert by the Sea” (Columbia – 1955), that is reported to be one of the four or five most popular jazz records ever put out. (Garner is phenomenal in a recording studio; in a few hours he sometimes sets down, without pause or retakes, a dozen or more numbers, some of them eight or ten minutes in length.) The reasons for his Sinatralike acclaim are puzzling. It began, of course, with the near-adoration that, until not long ago, many admirers of jazz had for him. (Bohemian’s law, that true art originates only in the garret, still operates to an astonishing degree in jazz; when an occasional jazz musician breaks into the big time, he immediately becomes suspect and, often as not, is dropped from all rolls of honor.) More than that, Garner’s appeal probably stems not from his style, which is unbendingly rococo and eccentric, but from the easily accessible flash, geniality, and warmth that continually propel it—qualities that once contributed a good deal to the success of such otherwise second-rate musicians as Gene Krupa, Harry James, and Charlie Barnet. A short, ebullient, parrot-nosed man who invariably accompanies himself with an infectious and appreciative series of grunts, hums, buzzes, and exclamations (“Uh-huh,” “Yahhm,” “Oho”), which seem to double the already high emotional level of his music, Garner is a totally untutored musician who cannot read a note of music. Basically, his plush, pumping orchestral style is divided into two quite different approaches—the rhapsodic and the stomping. When Garner rhapsodizes, he ebbs and floods all over the keyboard, producing, with frequent use of the pedal, vaporous pillows of sounds, full of vague chords and trailing, blurred strings of notes. It takes a steady beat to marshal his peculiar characteristics. These involve an extraordinary, almost melodramatic sense of dynamics that no other jazz musician has dared use, and a shifting, highly distinctive rhythmic attack, both of which result in the transmission of pure lumps of emotion through an instrument that in jazz can be flatly inimical to eloquence.”
If Landis scheduled an act to fill the two-week gap between Garner’s closing on September 6 and Ella Mae Morse’s opening on September 18th it was not advertised in the local newspapers or noted in Down Beat’s “ad lib” column. Ads for Morse’s engagement noted that she was accompanied by the Red Callender Trio. The one-week gig ended on September 26th.
Ella Mae Morse was profiled by George T. Simon in Metronome’s July 1952 issue.
The urge to sing jazz was always within Ella Mae Morse. She was just a kid when she first felt it and though there must have been moments when logic dictated that she try to sublimate that urge, never once did she veer from her course.
Ella Mae comes from Dallas, Texas. Down in Texas it’s not considered very polite, shall we say, for a young white girl to sing like a mature colored woman. Or at least it wasn’t considered so when Ella Mae was a young girl.
But that’s the style Ella Mae felt. None of this namby-pamby routine for her, with its politely suppressed emotion. To repeat, that’s what she felt. Others didn’t, though, and Ella Mae had a really tough time getting started. The radio stations would have none of her. One executive was especially vehement. He almost booted her out bodily and told her not to return until she had learned to sing like a lady. Ella Mae, who took nothing from anybody in those days, told him what he could do with himself and his station and with a “you’ll be begging me to come back, just wait and see!” stalked out of the building.
Sometime thereafter, Jimmy Dorsey heard her and took her away with his band. She was just a kid in her middle teens then, but jazz followers were amazed by the guts with which she sang in an age when Dinah Shore and her style were considered the only way to sing. Later she joined Freddy Slack’s band, achieving a great deal of recognition via the numerous boogie woogie sides she recorded with him for Capitol.
And then came something that may seem incongruous in the life of a jazz singer. There came Romance. Ella Mae married a handsome doctor (he’s now in the Navy) and they settled down and raised a family of three kids. And very few people heard much more of Ella Mae Morse.
But the urge was always there. Urges like that just can’t be drowned out, not even by three hollering kids. And so with her husband’s consent and with the enthusiasm of Capitol Records, Ella Mae decided to come back into a field that was doting on new sounds. For the first few sides nothing happened. And then came the new sound, the sound, believe it or not, of a tin ash tray! That’s the clink that you hear throughout “Blacksmith Blues.”
The ash tray didn’t do it alone, of course. There was the gutty, uninhibited singing of Ella Mae, a strong, strident style that could more easily find acceptance in an era when loud, shouting emoting was in vogue. In fact, to many, Elle Mae’s deep, rough chest tones in themselves qualified as a new sound. The gal was back and in!
Chances are that Ella Mae will be back and in for a longer time than most quick top-selling artists remain. For hers is not merely a trick style; it’s a real, honest, inward-bred manner of singing. She isn’t manufacturing it to order; she really feels it.
There are lots of other folks who feel it too, apparently. One of them, however, is a really honest convert. He recently phoned Ella Mae and invited her to come down and sing on his station anytime she wanted to. “I was very wrong,” he admitted, “that day I kicked you out and you said I’d be begging you to come back. Some day when you have time, I wish you would drop in. You can sing whatever you want, too!” Ella Mae does.
—George T. Simon
Billy Eckstine opened at Tiffany Club on October 2, 1953. His two week engagement ended on October 15th. Eckstine had a busy touring schedule that shuttled him between the coasts. Earlier in September he appeared in San Francisco and Oakland with Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie bands. The same troupe also appeared in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium in a concert organized by Gene Norman.
Billy Eckstine was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of William Eckstein, a chauffeur, and Charlotte Eckstein, a seamstress. Eckstine’s paternal grandparents were William F. Eckstein and Nannie Eckstein, a mixed-race, married couple who lived in Washington, D.C.; both were born in 1863. William was born in Prussia, Iowa, and Nannie in Virginia. Billy’s sister, Maxine, was a high school teacher.
Eckstine attended Peabody High School before moving to Washington, DC. He attended Armstrong High School, St. Paul Normal and Industrial School, and Howard University. He left Howard in 1933 after winning first place in an amateur talent contest.
Heading to Chicago, Eckstine joined Earl Hines’ Grand Terrace Orchestra in 1939, staying with the band as vocalist and trumpeter until 1943. By that time, Eckstine had begun to make a name for himself through the Hines band’s juke-box hits such as “Stormy Monday Blues”, and his own “Jelly Jelly.”
In 1944, Eckstine formed his own big band and it became the finishing school for adventurous young musicians who would shape the future of jazz. Included in this group were Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, and Fats Navarro, as well as vocalist Sarah Vaughan. Tadd Dameron, Gil Fuller and Jerry Valentine were among the band’s arrangers. The Billy Eckstine Orchestra is considered to be the first bop big-band, and had Top Ten chart entries that included “A Cottage for Sale” and “Prisoner of Love”. Both were awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
Dizzy Gillespie, in reflecting on the band in his 1979 autobiography To Be or Not to Bop, gives this perspective: “There was no band that sounded like Billy Eckstine’s. Our attack was strong, and we were playing bebop, the modern style. No other band like this one existed in the world.”
Eckstine became a solo performer in 1947, with records featuring lush sophisticated orchestrations. Even before folding his band, Eckstine had recorded solo to support it, scoring two million-sellers in 1945 with “Cottage for Sale” and a revival of “Prisoner of Love”. Far more successful than his band recordings, these prefigured Eckstine’s future career. Eckstine would go on to record over a dozen hits during the late 1940s. He signed with the newly established MGM Records, and had immediate hits with revivals of “Everything I Have Is Yours” (1947), Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” (1948), and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” (1949).
Eckstine had further success in 1950 with Victor Young’s theme song to “My Foolish Heart,” and the next year with a revival of the 1931 Bing Crosby hit, “I Apologize”. His 1950 appearance at the Paramount Theatre in New York City drew a larger audience than Frank Sinatra at his Paramount performance.
In 1951, Eckstine performed at the seventh famed Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles which was produced by Leon Hefflin, Sr. on July 8. Also featured were Lionel Hampton and his Revue, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Liggins’ Honeydrippers and Roy Brown.
The “Wild Bill” Davis Trio opened at Tiffany Club on October 16, 1953. The current Davis trio included Floyd Smith on guitar and Christopher Columbus on drums. Their two-week engagement ended on October 31st.
“Wild Bill” (William Strethen) Davis, was born in Glasgow, MO, November 24, 1918. He moved with his family to Parsons, Kansas, at an early age, and was taught music by his father, a professional singer. His early influences were Fats Waller and Art Tatum. After musical studies at Tuskegee Institute and Wiley College he moved to Chicago, where he played guitar and wrote arrangements for Milt Larkin (1939-42). He then provided arrangements for Earl Hines (1943) and Louis Jordan (1945-9), and also worked as pianist for the latter. After leaving Jordan, Davis took up Hammond organ and performed first as a soloist and, from 1951, as the leader of his own trio (which comprised either guitar or double bass with organ and drums). He continued to write arrangements, his most notable success being “April in Paris” for the Count Basie band. Basie and Davis were sharing the bill at Birdland. Basie was impressed by Davis’ handling of the Vernon Duke composition with the repeats at the end and asked Davis to do an arrangement for his band.
Steve Gibson and The Red Caps with Damita Jo opened at Tiffany Club on November 6, 1953. Their engagement ran until the 22nd of November.
Steve Gibson’s Red Caps were an African-American vocal/instrumental combo from Los Angeles. Members were Steve Gibson – guitar, bass singer; Emmett Matthews – saxophone, tenor singer; Dave Patillo – bass, vocals; Jimmy Springs – drums, tenor singer; and Romaine Brown – piano.
The Five Red Caps, in their long history, represent virtually every facet of Black popular music from the 30s through to the 50s, from crooning ballads, rousing jumps, and humorous jive tunes, to rock ‘n’ roll. They began as the Four Toppers in 1938 and in 1942 became the Five Red Caps. They signed with Joe Davis and his Beacon label in 1943 and gained their first and biggest hit with “I’ve Learned A Lesson I’ll never Forget” (number 3 R&B) in early 1944. Three other records that year made the charts, namely “Boogie-Woogie Ball,” “Just For You” and “No One Else Will Do.” In 1946 the group moved to Mercury Records and, recording under the name Steve Gibson and The Red Caps, achieved a hit in 1948 with “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine” (number 21 pop). In 1950 the group signed with RCA Records and with the addition of Damita Jo, the group had their last hit with the ballad “I Went To Your Wedding” (number 20 pop) in 1952. The Red Caps, however, found it increasingly hard to compete during the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, and disbanded in 1956.
Savanah Churchill opened at Tiffany Club on November 25, 1953. Her brief one-week engagement ended on December 2nd.
Born to Creole parents Emmett Roberts and Hazel Hickman in Colfax, Louisiana, her family moved to Brooklyn, New York when she was three. Growing up, Churchill played violin and sang with the choir at St. Peter Claver Catholic School in Brooklyn. She graduated from Brooklyn’s Girls’ High School.
In the 1930 and 1940 United States Census she and her parents are listed as Negro, as Louisiana Creoles were required to do at the time. Churchill never denied her African American ancestry even as she attained fame, and she appeared in black publications such as Jet magazine.
In 1939, Churchill quit her job as a waitress to pursue a singing career. She began singing at Small’s Paradise in Harlem, earning $18 a week. She performed with the Crystal Caraverns in Washington D.C. and then toured with Edgar Hayes band in 1941.
Her first recordings, including the risqué “Fat Meat Is Good Meat”, issued on Beacon Records in 1942. These were followed the next year by recordings on Capitol with the Benny Carter Orchestra, including her first hit “Hurry, Hurry”.
In 1945, Churchill signed with Irving Berman’s Manor Records, and that year “Daddy Daddy” peaked at #3 on the R&B chart. Two years later, reached #1 on the R&B chart with “I Want To Be Loved (But Only By You)”, which topped the charts for eight weeks. The record was billed as being with vocal group The Sentimentalists, who soon renamed themselves The Four Tunes. Subsequent recordings with The Four Tunes, including “Time Out For Tears” (#10 R&B, #24 pop) and “I Want To Cry”, both in 1948, were also successful.
Billed as “Sex-Sational”, Churchill performed to much acclaim, and appeared in the movies Miracle in Harlem (1948) and Souls of Sin (1949). From 1949, Churchill recorded with Regal, RCA Victor and Decca Records, recording the original version of “Shake A Hand”, later a big hit for Faye Adams, and also recording with the Ray Charles Singers.
By 1952, Churchill became one of the top box-office attraction at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Regal Theater in Chicago, the Howard Theater in Washington D.C., and the Palladium in London. She toured widely with backing vocal group The Striders, including a visit to Hawaii in 1954.
In 1953, Churchill released gospel tunes on Decca Records. In 1956, she was one of the first artists signed to the Argo label, set up as a subsidiary to Chess Records.
The Oscar Peterson Trio returned to Tiffany Club on December 4, 1953. This was Peterson’s third appearance at the club. Previous engagements had packed the club with SRO on the weekends. Peterson’s engagement ended on December 20th.
Oscar Peterson studied classical piano from the age of six, and when he was 14 won a local talent contest. During his late teens he played on a weekly Montreal radio show and throughout the mid-1940s was heard with Canada’s well-known Johnny Holmes Orchestra, playing in a style that blended elements from the styles of Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Nat “King” Cole, Erroll Garner, and others. Norman Granz invited him to appear at Carnegie Hall in 1949 in a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert, and from that time onwards managed Peterson’s career. Peterson toured regularly with Jazz at the Philharmonic during the early 1950s and formed his own trio using the combination of piano, guitar, and double bass popularized by Cole. His trio included Barney Kessel on guitar and Ray Brown on bass. Kessel was replaced by Herb Eliis for a December 10 recording session for Norman Granz although an earlier session on December 6 included Kessel.
Chuck Landis closed out 1953 bringing Billie Holiday back to the club for her third appearance. Lady Day had previously been engaged at the club earlier in year following Nat “King” Cole who closed out 1952 and opened 1953 at Tiffany Club. The December 30, 1953 issue of Down Beat featured a front page article announcing Billie Holiday’s upcoming European tour in January.
Billie To Make European Tour
New York — Contracts were signed here last month for Down Beat writer Leonard Feather to take a jazz package starring Billie Holiday on a four-week tour of Europe.
Completing the lineup will be the Red Norvo Trio, the Buddy DeFranco Quartet, the Beryl Booker trio, and Carl Drinkard, Billie’s pianist.
Show will be billed as Jazz Club U. S. A., after the similarly-named series of broadcasts which Feather has been airing since 1950 for the Voice of America.
This will be Billie’s first overseas trip. A tour last year was canceled when Dick Haymes, who had been booked jointly with her, was unable to leave the country because of tax difficulties.
The unit will play its first date Jan. 11 in Stockholm and will proceed to concerts in other Swedish cities and in Norway, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Holland, and Fiance.
RECAP : 1953
THE INK SPOTS – “SLAPPY” WHITE
July 10 – July 29
July 31 – August 8
ERROLL GARNER TRIO
August 14 – September 6
ELLA MAE MORSE – RED CALLENDER TRIO
September 18 – September 26
October 2 – October 15
“WILD” BILL DAVIS
October 16 – October 31
STEVE GIBSON’S RED CAPS – DAMITA JO
November 6 – November 22
November 25 – December 2
OSCAR PETERSON TRIO
December 4 – December 20
December 24 – January 5, 1954
To be continued.