Jack Leonard

Photo of Jack Leonard
  • Born

    February 10, 1913
    Brooklyn, New York
  • Died

    June 17, 1988 (age 75)
    Woodland Hills, California
  • Orchestras

    Tommy Dorsey

One of the top male vo­cal­ists of the late 1930s, Jack Leonard got his start singing at a road­side stand on Long Island and worked on the gov­ern­ment re­lief team that built New York’s Jones Beach in the early 1930s. He was singing in Bert Block’s or­ches­tra when Tommy Dorsey hired him away in early 1936. Dorsey also took trum­peter Joe Bauer and arranger Axel Stordahl, then known as Odd Stordahl. Together the men formed a vo­cal group call the Three Esquires.

It was as a soloist, though, that Leonard would achieve star­dom, singing on such clas­sics as Marie,” All the Things You Are,” Our Love,” and Indian Summer.” He quickly be­came pop­u­lar with au­di­ences and crit­ics alike and placed at or near the top in var­i­ous polls con­ducted dur­ing the late 1930s. He was ri­valed only by Bing Crosby in pop­u­lar­ity.

Leonard was a shy, hand­some man who was liked by all. He was very near-sighted but re­fused to wear glasses in pub­lic so as not to spoil his ro­man­tic im­age. His de­par­ture from Dorsey’s or­ches­tra in November 1939 was a sur­prise to his band­mates. The ru­mor was that Dorsey had grown sus­pi­cious of Leonard’s in­ten­tions, fear­ing that he was go­ing to leave soon for a solo ca­reer, and had forced him out. Leonard him­self tried to dis­pel that ru­mor at the time, say­ing he just needed a break and would re­turn soon, and in­deed an an­nounce­ment was made a week later that Leonard and Dorsey had patched up their dif­fer­ences and that Leonard would re­turn to the band per­ma­nently. He never did.

Dorsey had just lost his other long-time vo­cal­ist, Edythe Wright, the pre­vi­ous month and used the op­por­tu­nity of shed­ding Leonard to re­vamp his en­tire or­ches­tra, which may have also played a part in the singer’s de­par­ture. An un­usual quirk in the mat­ter was that Dorsey held Leonard’s per­sonal man­age­ment con­tract, mean­ing that he would get a cut of any­thing Leonard made as a solo artist. Leonard was re­placed in Dorsey’s band by Allan DeWitt, who failed to work out and was re­placed af­ter less than two months by Frank Sinatra.[1]

Early Solo Career and War Years

Leonard’s pop­u­lar­ity kept him busy af­ter leav­ing Dorsey. He worked steadily on ra­dio, in the­aters, and in the record­ing stu­dio for Okeh Records. He also be­gan steadily dat­ing singer Amy Arnell. His ca­reer and per­sonal life were go­ing strong un­til early March 1941, when, on the same day that he screen-tested for 20th Century Fox and signed on for ap­pear­ances at New York’s Paramount Theater, Leonard re­ceived his draft no­tice. He man­aged a de­fer­ment un­til May to com­plete his Paramount oblig­a­tions and then re­ported for duty. His draft board pro­posed putting him in an Army en­ter­tain­ment unit, though Leonard re­fused. He ended up singing any­way, at Fort Dix, New Jersey, for the Herbie Fields band.

Soon af­ter Leonard en­tered the ser­vice, Columbia asked per­mis­sion to bring him into the stu­dio while he was in the Army. For what­ever rea­son, the record­ings did­n’t hap­pen. Though Leonard had been or­dered for a year’s ser­vice, the Army re­leased him in November be­cause he was over 28 years old, and he re­turned to civil­ian life. Quickly re­sum­ing his ca­reer, he be­gan a se­ries of the­ater dates and cut sev­eral sides for Okeh. He was also in the run­ning for his own NBC ra­dio pro­gram. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, though, the Army re­called him to ac­tive duty in January 1942, and back to Fort Dix he went.

Popular with other sol­diers, Leonard rose to the rank of staff sergeant and re­mained in the ser­vice for the du­ra­tion of World War II. Fronting his own band, he kept busy host­ing a nightly va­ri­ety show and do­ing four ra­dio broad­casts a week, in­clud­ing one for the Mutual net­work, as well as as­sorted other per­for­mances as re­quired. The band trav­eled to Europe in early 1945, re­turn­ing in August for re­as­sign­ment. Discharged soon af­ter, Leonard at­tempted to restart his ca­reer.

Post-War Years

Before Leonard had even re­ceived his dis­charge pa­pers, net­works had be­gun feel­ing him out for a ra­dio pro­gram. In December, he signed a two-year deal with Majestic Records, and his first live book­ing hap­pened on January 3 at the Copacabana in New York, where he took sec­ond billing af­ter Jerry Lester when Phil Regan re­fused to ac­cept the spot. There was great ex­pec­ta­tions for Leonard among au­di­ences and crit­ics, but he would soon dis­ap­point. His 1946 record­ings sounded sim­i­lar to the ro­man­tic bal­lads of his pre-war ma­te­r­ial but lacked warmth, and when they failed to cap­ture any at­ten­tion 1947 saw a com­plete shift in style to light-hearted ma­te­r­ial backed by a jazzy vo­cal quar­tet, which equally failed to im­press.

Leonard made three mi­nor sil­ver screen ap­pear­ances start­ing in 1947, his first as a singing cow­boy in a film ti­tled Swing the Western Way. All were B movies. Majestic dropped him af­ter his con­tract ended, and he signed with Hi-Tone in 1949 and also recorded with Signature later that year. The records re­ceived lit­tle no­tice. He had his own tele­vi­sion pro­gram in 1949, and ap­peared as one of the hosts for Broadway Open House in 1951, but de­spite his best ef­forts he was never able to re­gain the trac­tion he had prior to the war.

Leonard made a re­turn to the record­ing stu­dio with Dorsey in 1951. The band­leader arranged the ses­sions as a way to help boost Leonard, but the records, old-fash­ioned in their at­tempt to mimic their 1937 hit Marie,” went nowhere. When Dorsey of­fered Leonard the job of ad­vance ra­dio pro­mo­tion man for the band in 1952, Leonard ac­cepted, re­tir­ing from the stage. Leonard’s du­ties were to pre­cede the band into town at their next sched­uled per­for­mance and hit the air­waves to pro­mote the show, a job that he loved. He only oc­ca­sion­ally sang there­after, most no­tably in 1956 when he per­formed at the memo­r­ial con­cert af­ter Dorsey’s death.

Leonard later served as Nat King Cole’s busi­ness man­ager and worked in mu­sic pub­lish­ing be­fore re­tir­ing in the 1970s. He mar­ried Edna Ryan in July 1948. Jack Leonard died from can­cer in 1988, age 75.[2]

Notes

  1. It’s an oft-re­peated false­hood that Sinatra re­placed Leonard in Dorsey’s band. The story is also some­times told that Leonard left Dorsey be­cause he was drafted, which is even less true. The events that sur­rounded Leonard’s de­par­ture from the or­ches­tra were ma­jor news events and clearly re­ported at the time but be­came dis­torted by the late 1940s, with even trade mag­a­zines and jazz historians” mis­re­mem­ber­ing the cor­rect story. Leonard him­self tied into this nar­ra­tive, and these false­hoods have been per­pet­u­ated over the years by news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, obit­u­ar­ies, and sloppy his­tor­i­cal work.
  2. The date of Leonard’s birth is usu­ally given as 1915, and obit­u­ar­ies say he was 73 when he died. His grand­son, how­ever, has stated that Leonard’s birth­date is February 10, 1913, and Down Beat mag­a­zine in their November 15, 1941, and January 1, 1942, is­sues, re­ported that Leonard had been dis­charged from the ser­vice be­cause he was over 28 years old, which val­i­dates the 1913 birth year. Leonard most likely, when he was at­tempt­ing to res­ur­rect his ca­reer post-war, mis­rep­re­sented his age to ap­pear younger, a not un­com­mon prac­tice for celebri­ties at that time.

Music

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  • May I Have the Next Romance with You?
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Victor (1936)
  • Where Are You?
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Victor (1936)
  • Marie
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Victor (1937)
  • Who?
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Victor (1937)
  • Midnight on the Trail
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Victor (1938)
  • Jezebel
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Victor (1938)
  • All the Things You Are
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Victor (1939)
  • Indian Summer
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Victor (1939)
  • I Give You My Word
    Jack Leonard, Okeh (1940)
  • I Never Mention Your Name
    Jack Leonard, Okeh (1940)
  • When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano
    Jack Leonard, Okeh (1940)
  • It Isn't a Dream Anymore
    Jack Leonard, Okeh (1941)
  • How Deep Is the Ocean
    Jack Leonard, Okeh (1941)
  • Madelaine
    Jack Leonard, Okeh (1941)
  • Who Calls?
    Jack Leonard, Okeh (1941)
  • In the Moon Mist
    Jack Leonard, Majestic (1946)
  • They Say It's Wonderful
    Jack Leonard, Majestic (1946)
  • Tea for Two
    Jack Leonard, Majestic (1947)
  • Naughty Angeline
    Jack Leonard, Majestic (1947)
  • S'Posin'
    Jack Leonard, Majestic (1947)
  • I'm in Heaven When I See You Smile Diane
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Decca (1951)
  • Sweet Adeline
    Tommy Dorsey (Jack Leonard), Decca (1951)

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. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  3. McCarthy, Albert. The Dance Band Era. Radnor, Pennsylvania: Chilton, 1971.
  4. “Jack Leonard.” IMDb. Accessed 9 Nov. 2015.
  5. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 9 Nov. 2015.
  6. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 18 Nov. 1939: 10.
  7. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 25 Nov. 1939: 12.
  8. “Jack Leonard Back With T. Dorsey.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1939: 2.
  9. Thompson, Edgar A. “Riding the Airwaves.” The Milwaukee Journal 8 Dec. 1939: 2.
  10. “Tom Dorsey Gets Frank Sinatra.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1940: 5.
  11. “Jack Leonard Drafted; Movies Want Him, Too.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1940: 2.
  12. Steinhauser, Si. “Star Gets Ready for Army Pay.” The Pittsburgh Press: 12 May 1941: 16.
  13. “Ravings at Reveille.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1941: 11.
  14. Egan, Jack. “Egan Excreta.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1941: 4.
  15. “Jack Leonard.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1941: 12.
  16. “Jack Leonard and Don Matteson Shed Khaki, Leave Dix.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1941: 5.
  17. “Jack Leonard Back in Action.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1941: 1.
  18. “Ex-Draftees Await Recall To Fight War, Unk.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1942: 3.
  19. “Jack Leonard Is Ready, Unk.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1942: 23.
  20. “Sergeant Leonard Reports for Duty.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1942: 21.
  21. “Ravings at Reveille.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1942: 21.
  22. “Ace Musicians and Star Performers Give Fort Dix Plenty of Entertainment.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1942: 19.
  23. “Ravings at Reveille.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1943: 16.
  24. “Ravings at Reveille.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1943: 20.
  25. Lino, Al. “Dorsey Worried Because Vocalists Are Too Good.” St. Petersburg Times 26 Mar. 1944: 43.
  26. “Ravings at Reveille.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1945: 13.
  27. “Singer Jack Leonard Back From The Wars.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1945: 3.
  28. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1945: 1.
  29. “Jack Leonard Inks Majestic Disk Pact.” Billboard 1 Dec. 1945: 18.
  30. “Jack Leonard Bows At Copa.” Down Beat 14 Jan. 1946: 3.
  31. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 11 Feb. 1946: 8, 19.
  32. “Percy Faith Carries On Tradition of 'Big 4'.” Down Beat 29 Jan. 1947: 19.
  33. Emge, Charles. “On the Beat in Hollywood.” Down Beat 12 Mar. 1947: 9.
  34. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 22 Sep. 1948: 10.
  35. “Leonard Recalled To Nitery In Pittsburgh.” Down Beat 22 Sep. 1948: 8.
  36. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1949: 12.
  37. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 4 Nov. 1949: 5.
  38. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 22 Dec. 1951: 32,33.
  39. Holly, Hal. “Jack Leonard, TD Road Mgr., Happy To Be An Ex-Singer.” Down Beat 2 Jul. 1952: 5.
  40. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 19 Sep. 1956: 8.
  41. “Nat May Bite.” Down Beat 21 Aug. 1958: 10.
  42. “Obituaries : Jack Leonard, 73, Big Band Singer.” Los Angeles Times 19 Jun. 1988. Web.
  43. “Jack Leonard, Singer, 73.” The New York Times 22 Jun. 1988. Web.