Once called the “greatest unsung singer,” baritone Stuart Foster had a long and distinguished career. Though he never achieved anything more than a moderate level of fame, Foster worked with some of the biggest names in the business and earned the respect of critics and colleagues alike over his thirty years as a vocalist.
Foster joined Ina Ray Hutton’s new all-male orchestra in 1940, where he received feature billing and appeared with the group in the 1944 Columbia film Ever Since Venus. He remained with Hutton for four years until Hutton, citing a need for rest, temporarily disbanded in August 1944. Foster then joined Guy Lombardo’s orchestra, where he had his only chart success, singing on two of the band’s hit songs. “Always” peaked at the number ten spot for one week in February 1945, and “Poor Little Rhode Island” reached number eleven on the jukebox charts in May 1945. The former was recorded in early November 1944, and the latter on December 1st. Hutton announced her reorganization the following day, and Foster returned to her band, where he stayed only briefly. By early March 1945, he’d joined Tommy Dorsey.
At the time Foster joined, Dorsey had been having trouble finding and keeping male vocalists. He’d gone through a slew of singers since Skip Nelson had left in October 1944, some of them only staying a few days. With Foster, Dorsey found stability. Foster also proved popular with the public during his time with Dorsey. Having never placed in any of Down Beat magazine’s previous reader polls, he earned top honors as best male band vocalist for 1945 and placed second in the 1946 poll. The baritone stayed with the orchestra until Dorsey disbanded in November 1946.
After disbanding, Dorsey kept Foster under contract despite not having an orchestra. When the bandleader put together a temporary outfit the following month for a four-week engagement, Foster returned. Dorsey also featured Foster as a solo act at the Casino Gardens in Los Angeles, which Dorsey owned and operated. When Dorsey permanently formed a new band in May 1947, Foster once again served as its singer. In August 1947, Foster was voted best-liked male vocalist in Billboard magazine’s first annual DJ poll. He placed second in the following year’s poll, swapping places with Vaughn Monroe, who had been second the previous year. He appeared with the orchestra in the 1947 film The Fabulous Dorseys.
Foster remained with Dorsey until mid-1948, when he’d left by June to begin a solo career. He soon found himself in high demand on both the airwaves and in the recording studio. Foster worked on several radio programs, including The Bill Williams Show on WOR in 1949, The Rayburn and Finch Show on CBS in 1951, and Dave Garroway’s NBC program in 1952. During the 1950s, he also had his own program, which first ran on ABC and later on CBS from at least 1952 to 1958. He also appeared on Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club in Chicago in 1953 before joining Galen Drake’s program in 1954, which variously ran on both ABC and CBS through at least 1958. He also sang on Main Street Music Hall on CBS in 1954. In 1950, he appeared on the WABD television program Once Upon a Tune. He also appeared on Drake’s 1957 ABC television program.
Foster recorded with Hugo Winterhalter’s orchestra on MGM in early 1949. During the last half of that year, he became vocalist for that label’s house orchestra, led by Russ Case. The grouping was an attempt to mimic Decca’s success with using Gordon Jenkins to do quick recordings of popular songs that otherwise weren’t being done by the label’s stars. In 1950, Foster recorded with Shep Fields on MGM and Billy Butterfield’s band on the London label. He also recorded solo on both the London and Eastly labels that year.
In 1951, Foster recorded several more times with Winterhalter again as well as with Bob Dewey’s orchestra, both on Victor. He recorded solo on the new indie PAB label and did one side for Atlantic that same year. Foster signed with the Abbey label in early 1952 and again recorded with Winterhalter late that year. In 1953, he recorded with Xavier Cugat on Victor and Gordon Jenkins on Decca. In 1954, he recorded for Bell and RCA’s Camden label as well as on the Italian Nightingale label. Foster sang with the Chappaqua High School Kids choir on Coral in early 1955 and both Jenkins and Art Mooney later that year. He was back in the studio with Jenkins in 1956 and then did solo work on Coral.
1957 saw Foster singing on Camden’s low-priced Hits of ’57 album. He went in the studio with the Dick Jacobs Orchestra in 1959, on Coral, and sang on the 20th Century Fox concept album Rain in 1960. Every song either had rain in the title or suggested rain. He recorded solo on Jubilee in 1960 and Mohawk in 1962. He also appeared on a special album of Academy Award winning songs put out by Doubleday Books in 1961. Foster’s last recording was for the Gold Coin label in 1965.
From the late 1950s onward, Foster worked as a staff vocalist at CBS, often appearing on the network’s special programs, singing with their house orchestra. He had no regrets about not becoming famous. In a 1957 interview, he said about his career: “I make a good living. I live at home with my wife and son and I don’t have to go on the road. I’m happy the way things are.” In the same interview, Foster also gave his opinion on vocalists of the rock and roll era: “I feel the music has sunk to a pretty low level. So many of the hit record performers simply can’t sing — they are off-key most of the time. The sad part is that they think they’re singing well.”
Foster did go on the road one last time, in 1965 with Skitch Henderson’s orchestra. Stuart Foster passed away in 1968 at the young age of 49.
Rayburn is Gene Rayburn, more famously known as host of the popular 1970s game show Match Game. ↩︎
Then the call sign of current New York station WNYW. ↩︎
Some online sources list Foster’s death as February 8th. Foster, however, passed away on January 8th, as noted by Billboard magazine in their January 20, 1968, issue. The February date can be traced to a February 13th column by show business gossip columnist Jack O’Brian, who related that Foster had died “this week.” Given the usual 4-6 week lead of syndicated columnists in that era, that about matches the January 8 date. Other researchers have not corrected for that lead. ↩︎