Don Darcy

aka Don D'ArcyJohnny DarcyJohn Arcesi

Photo of Don Darcy

Baritone Don Darcy had an in­ter­est­ing ca­reer. Born in Sayre, Pennsylvania, home­town of singer Russ Columbo, Darcy grew up idol­iz­ing the pop­u­lar vo­cal­ist. Darcy was so ob­sessed with be­com­ing a band singer that he ran away from home at age 14 and headed to New York, where he worked var­i­ous jobs and slept on park benches, ho­tel roofs, and in sub­ways while he pur­sued his am­bi­tion. He sang as a free­lance band vo­cal­ist dur­ing the mid-1930s, record­ing with Lud Gluskin in 1934 and Louis King” Garcia in 1936. He also worked for Charlie Barnet and sang on lo­cal ra­dio be­fore join­ing Joe Venutis or­ches­tra in 1937, where he stayed for four years.

As Darcy told it, he earned the job with Venuti af­ter ap­proach­ing the band­stand one night and brag­ging that he could sing like Bing Crosby, to which Venuti, a known joke­ster, replied that he could­n’t pos­si­ble sing like Crosby be­cause he had hair and Crosby was bald­ing. Taking it as a chal­lenge, Darcy shaved his head the next day to re­sem­ble Crosby’s bald­ing pate and showed up again that night. Venuti hired him. Whether the tale is true or not is un­known, as ap­par­ently many sto­ries cir­cu­lated about pranks played be­tween the two men, in­clud­ing one that told of Venuti truss­ing up Darcy and sus­pend­ing him over a the­ater pit with a tar­pon and pole, which Darcy said was un­true.

Darcy, whose name was some­times writ­ten D’Arcy, left Venuti in ei­ther May 1941 when the leader re­vamped his or­ches­tra. He joined Dick Gasparre and then Rudy Bundy be­fore end­ing up in Joe Marsala’s new band in August 1942. In January 1943, he joined Sonny Dunham, leav­ing in early 1944 for Boyd Raeburn. While with Raeburn, he was re­ported to have re­ceived over seven thou­sand let­ters from Detroit-area fans when his ren­di­tion of Prisoner of Love” was aired on lo­cal ra­dio. He left Raeburn in April 1945, re­placed by David Allen. He briefly be­came part of Hal McIntyres or­ches­tra that month as it pre­pared to travel over­seas, but did­n’t make the trip. He then joined Art Mooney’s band in June, where he was known as Johnny” Darcy.

In early 1945, Darcy di­vorced from his wife, Carolyn, and in November mar­ried Evelyn Quinet. Saxophonist Johnny Bothwell, a for­mer Raeburn band­mate, served as best man, and Bothwell’s wife, singer Claire Hogan, who had worked with Darcy in both Raeburn’s and Mooney’s bands, served as maid of honor. When Bothwell put to­gether an or­ches­tra of his own in early 1946, Darcy left Mooney to join him. With Bothwell, Darcy fi­nally be­gan to come into his own, catch­ing the at­ten­tion of both crit­ics and au­di­ences. One Down Beat re­viewer noted that he sings well every­thing he does and has an un­usu­ally in­tel­li­gent grasp of phras­ing.” Darcy placed 10th in the cat­e­gory of male band singer in Down Beats an­nual poll that year, far up from the 23rd he’d placed the year be­fore.

Darcy stayed with Bothwell through the end of 1946, re­main­ing in New York when the leader went west to Kansas. Going solo, he recorded two songs on the Embassy la­bel early in 1947. He also recorded on Century Records in 1950. Plagued with fi­nan­cial and mar­i­tal dif­fi­cul­ties, Darcy worked his way to Honolulu, where in 1952 he was heard singing at a house party by agent Bert Richman. Richman de­cided that Darcy’s voice was worth the in­vest­ment and brought in pub­lic­ity man Ed Schofield to help. They arranged a Capitol Records con­tract for him un­der his real name, John Arcesi.[1]

Richman and Schofield put a great deal of en­ergy into pro­mot­ing Arcesi, cook­ing up two no­to­ri­ous pub­lic­ity stunts which one Down Beat writer called the most star­tling space-grab­bing stunts since P.T. Barnum.” The first stunt re­volved around the re­lease of Arcesi’s record­ing Wild Honey.” They sent jars of honey to disk jock­eys as a gift to pro­mote the song, and Schofield set up a photo op with a model dubbed Miss Wild Honey. Apparently, the full ex­tent of the photo op was un­known to her—or per­haps Arcesi ad-libbed when he dumped a jar of honey over her head—and the model sued, even­tu­ally set­tling out-of-court for $750 in late 1955.

The sec­ond stunt in­volved hir­ing an as­pir­ing star­let named Ariel Ames to at­tend Arcesi’s show at the Thunderbird in Las Vegas on November 9, 1952, just be­fore the re­lease of his song Lost in Your Love.” The woman pre­tended to go into a trance when he sang the num­ber and had to be hos­pi­tal­ized. The na­tional wire ser­vices picked up the story, and it made head­lines across the coun­try. Newspapers pub­lished a pic­ture of the sup­pos­edly un­known woman, which prompted her grand­mother to iden­tify her. A hypnotic ther­a­pist” ex­am­ined her, cur­ing her by hav­ing Arcesi sing the same song again in her hos­pi­tal room, which woke” her af­ter 39 hours in the trance. This cure also made the na­tional news. When Capitol sent out copies of the song to disk jock­eys, the record sleeves re­pro­duced clip­pings of the in­ci­dent and gave warn­ing that play­ing the song could cause some mem­bers of the lis­ten­ing au­di­ence to be­come hyp­no­tized.

While the pub­lic might have fallen for such the­atrics, show busi­ness and mu­sic in­dus­try in­sid­ers did­n’t, and the stunt be­came a source of amuse­ment in the trade press. Columnist Earl Wilson at­tended Arcesi’s first New York per­for­mance just be­fore Christmas at the French Casino. When no one fell into a trance, he asked a spokesperson,” who told him that a wholly un­sched­uled and spon­ta­neous trance will oc­cur at the sec­ond show.” Billboard re­viewer Bill Smith at­tended the sec­ond show and re­ported that a woman in the front row gave Arcesi a very ex­pen­sive ring af­ter he’d fin­ished singing his in­fa­mous trance num­ber, ap­par­ently hyp­no­tized in the same man­ner as was the star­let in Las Vegas. For added flair, the woman was East Indian” and wore a tur­ban. The stunts had their in­tended ef­fects, how­ever, and Arcesi sud­denly be­came a hot com­mod­ity. Sales picked up on his record­ings, and Hollywood stu­dios tapped him to star in a film based on the story of Russ Columbo, his idol, the story rights to which, co­in­ci­den­tally, be­longed to Richman and Schofield.

In ad­di­tion to such pub­lic­ity stunts, Arcesi’s per­for­mances also fea­tured nu­mer­ous gim­micks, much to the dis­like of re­view­ers. He wore odd cloth­ing, made ex­ag­ger­ated move­ments and sang in an odd man­ner. In the end, it was all for naught. While Arcesi made the head­lines and was briefly in the spot­light, he never fol­lowed up with any record­ings that sparked the pub­lic’s in­ter­est, mak­ing only one other sin­gle for Capitol be­fore the la­bel dropped him. He recorded on the Kem la­bel later in 1953, backed by Nelson Riddle’s or­ches­tra, and though he re­ceived good re­views, it went nowhere. He worked the night club cir­cuit all through­out 1953, his most no­table en­gage­ments be­ing in early March when he missed his open­ing night at the Boulevard af­ter spend­ing the night in jail thanks to non-sup­port charges filed by his ex-wife, Evelyn, and in December when he fol­lowed Frank Sinatra at the French Casino in New York.

In late 1953, Arcesi dropped the gim­micks and changed both man­age­ment and book­ing agen­cies, but by then it was too late. His ca­reer as a pop singer was ef­fec­tively over. For his part, he knew that the gam­ble might not pay off, say­ing it takes more than pub­lic­ity stunts to get to the top and stay there long enough to make some­thing of it.” He added: I have to be able to to put some­thing into a song that leaves a last­ing im­pres­sion on the lis­tener. You can’t do that with gim­micks and trick sound ef­fects.” He com­pared him­self with Columbo. Russ sang with sim­plic­ity and deep, hon­est sin­cer­ity. That’s the way I want to be known—or not at all.”

Arcesi spent the lat­ter part of his life writ­ing songs and pro­duc­ing other record­ing artists, oc­ca­sion­ally singing and record­ing un­der pseu­do­nyms. In 1972, he re­leased an off­beat psy­che­delic al­bum un­der the name Arcesia”[2] which has since be­come a col­lec­tor’s clas­sic for those who en­joy odd mu­sic.

John Arcesi passed away in 1983, age 66.

Notes

  1. Arcesi is pro­nounced ar-see-see.”
  2. Arcesia is the name of a but­ter­fly species.

Music

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  • Swing, Mr. Charlie
    Louis "King" Garcia and His Swing Band (Don Darcy), Bluebird (1936)
  • Christopher Columbus
    Louis "King" Garcia and His Swing Band (Don Darcy), Bluebird (1936)
  • When They Ask About You
    Sonny Dunham (Don Darcy), Hit (1944)
  • Don't Worry Mom
    Sonny Dunham (Don Darcy), Hit (1944)
  • I Didn't Know About You
    Boyd Raeburn (Don Darcy), Guild (1945)
  • I Promise You
    Boyd Raeburn (Don Darcy), Guild (1945)
  • My Old Flame
    Johnny Bothwell (Don Darcy), Signature (1946)
  • I Left My Heart in Mississippi
    Johnny Bothwell (Don Darcy), Signature (1946)
  • I'll Close My Eyes
    Johnny Bothwell (Don Darcy), Signature (1947)
  • Wild Honey
    John Arcesi, Capitol (1952)
  • Moonlight Brings Memories
    John Arcesi, Capitol (1952)
  • Butterfly Mind
    Arcesia, aka John Arcesi, Alpha (1972)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 6 Dec. 2015.
  3. “Night Club Reviews: Frank Sebastian's, Culver City, California.” Billboard 8 Jan. 1938: 20.
  4. “The Reviewing Stand: Joe Venuti.” Billboard 31 Dec. 1938: 67.
  5. “The Reviewing Stand: Joe Venuti.” Billboard 16 Mar. 1940: 13.
  6. “Vaudeville Reviews: RKO Palace, Cleveland.” Billboard 22 Feb. 1941: 24.
  7. Herzog, Buck. “Reviews of the New Films.” The Milwaukee Sentinel 22 Feb. 1941: 6.
  8. “Andrews Gals Big 24G in Pittsburgh.” Billboard 22 Mar. 1941: 20.
  9. “New Band, New Outlook For Venuti.” Down Beat 15 May 1944: 2.
  10. “Biagini Managing New Venuti Band.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1944: 1.
  11. “One the Air: Dick Gasparre.” Billboard 17 May 1941: 12.
  12. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 11 Jul. 1942: 21.
  13. “On the Air: Joe Marsala.” Billboard 5 Sep. 1942: 20.
  14. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 30 Jan. 1943: 22.
  15. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 19 Jun. 1943: 16.
  16. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 26 Jun. 1943: 27.
  17. “On the Stand: Sonny Dunham.” Billboard 25 Dec. 1943: 35.
  18. “Pop Record Reviews: Sonny Dunham.” Billboard 5 Feb. 1944: 60.
  19. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 May 1944: 5.
  20. “Song Plug Hits Mulholland Hard.” Billboard 23 Sep. 1944: 19.
  21. “Lost Harmony.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1945: 5.
  22. “Night Club Reviews: Hotel Sherman, College Inn, Chicago.” Billboard 17 Mar. 1945: 24.
  23. “Raeburn Recording Session Presents Trade Sidelights.” Billboard 31 Mar. 1945: 103.
  24. “Music as Written.” Billboard 21 Apr. 1945: 21.
  25. “McIntyre Readies For Overseas Jaunt.” Down Beat 1 May 1945: 1.
  26. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1945: 1.
  27. “John Darcy Marries.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1945: 1.
  28. “Band Poll.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1946: 16.
  29. “Vaudeville Reviews.” Billboard 2 Mar. 1946: 40.
  30. “Music as Written.” Billboard 27 Apr. 1946: 26.
  31. “Bothwell Trains Before Tour.” Down Beat 20 May 1946: 2.
  32. “Slicker D'Arcy.” Billboard 22 Jun. 1946: 20.
  33. “Bothwell Leads Boff Well Combo.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1946: 2.
  34. “Advance Record Releases.” Billboard 31 Aug. 1946: 31.
  35. “Advance Record Releases.” Billboard 16 Nov. 1946: 30.
  36. “1946 Band Poll Winners.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1947: 20.
  37. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1947: 20.
  38. “Music—As Written.” Billboard 11 Jan. 1947: 16.
  39. “Advance Record Releases.” Billboard 11 Jan. 1947: 34.
  40. “Trade Tattle.” Down Beat 10 Mar. 1948: 22.
  41. “Music as Written.” Billboard 27 May 1950: 18.
  42. “Arcesi, Carr Ink Capitol Wax Pacts.” Billboard 5 Jul. 1952: 45.
  43. “Music as Written.” Billboard 11 Oct. 1952: 27.
  44. “Girl Who Blacked Out During Song Recovers Senses.” Lodi News-Sentinel [Lodi, CA] 12 Nov. 1952: 7.
  45. “Capitol Hits Novel Way to Launch Disk.” Billboard 29 Nov. 1952: 20.
  46. Smith, Bill. “Caught Again: French Casino, New York.” Billboard 20 Dec. 1952: 16.
  47. Wilson, Earl. “Man about Town on Gay Broadway.” Beaver Valley-Times [Beaver, PA] 23 Dec. 1952: 4.
  48. Emge, Charles. “I'll Need More Than Publicity Gimmicks To Succeed: Arcesi.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1953: 20.
  49. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 11 Mar. 1953: 3.
  50. “Music as Written.” Billboard 21 Mar. 1953: 32.
  51. “Second Visit Is Key Problem for Would-Be Stars.” Billboard 18 Jul. 1953: 20.
  52. “Popular Records.” Down Beat 23 Sep. 1953: 12.
  53. “Music as Written.” Billboard 10 Oct. 1953: 22.
  54. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 4 Nov. 1953: 3.
  55. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 31 Dec. 1953: 3.
  56. “Worth $750.” Spokane Daily Chronicle 4 Jan. 1956: 1.