Charlie Barnet

Charlie Barnet
  • Birth Name
    Charles Daly Barnet
  • Born
    October 26, 1913
    New York, New York
  • Died
    September 4, 1991
    San Diego, California (age 77)

Millionaire playboy and bandleader Charlie Barnet is one of the more colorful figures in jazz history. Nicknamed “Mad Mab,” he was married more times than you can count on both hands. He was also a champion of racial equality, hiring many black singers and musicians at a time when other bands were segregated. His use of African-American performers kept his orchestra out of several hotels and ballrooms and was also probably the reason why he was never picked for any big commercial radio series. His music and arrangements were admittedly influenced by Duke Ellington. So dedicated to the Duke was he that when he built a fallout shelter after the war he stocked it with a collection of Ellington recordings.

Barnet was born into New York high society in 1913. He rebelled against his parent’s wishes that he study law and became a jazz musician instead, playing in his first outfit at age 16. He formed his first important band in 1933 and cut several sides in 1934 with an all-star group led by Red Norvo. In 1936, while playing with his own orchestra at the Glen Island Casino, he introduced vocal group the Modernaires, who later went on to fame with Glenn Miller.

On October 2, 1939, Barnet’s band narrowly escaped with their lives when the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles burned to the ground. The fire began during intermission when the radio engineer for the night’s broadcast carelessly left a cloth on top of his equipment. Flames spread quickly, and Barnet’s men had no time to save their instruments or musical library. All were completely destroyed.

Despite the setback, Barnet’s orchestra achieved public recognition in 1939 with their classic recording of “Cherokee,” and soon his was one of the most popular bands in the country. Early Vocalists included Harry Von Zell, Mary Ann McCall, Frances Wayne, Fran Warren, Bob Carroll, and Don Darcy. In 1941, he featured Lena Horne as a vocalist, cutting four sides with her. Also featured in Barnet’s group over the years were musicians Oscar Pettiford, Neil Hefti, Barney Kessel, Buddy DeFranco and Dodo Marmarosa.

Barnet disbanded and started new orchestras several times during his career, and by 1947 he was turning towards bop. Later vocalists included Billy Usher, Bonnie Lou Williams, Johnny McAfee, Kay Starr, Ziggy Talent, Phil Barton, and Ginny Powell. Barnet, however, finally lost interest in big bands and the commercial music industry and turned over his orchestra to Bob Dawes in late 1948, exclaiming that he’d rather play real jazz and starve than play dance halls. He settled on the West Coast, occasionally leading a sextet or septet. Financially set, he never worried about starving or making a living. He dabbled in music publishing and the restaurant business in his retirement. In the mid-1960s, he headed a big band organized specially for a two-week stint in New York’s Basin Street East. He made his last recording in 1966. Charlie Barnet died in 1991.

Music

Previous <<
Play > Pause ||
Next >>
0:00 / 0:00
Select a song to play
Play All
  • Milkman's Matinee
    Charlie Barnet (Modernaires), Bluebird (1936)
  • I Can't Remember to Forget
    Charlie Barnet (Bob Carroll), Bluebird (1940)
  • Isola Bella (That Little Swiss Isle)
    Charlie Barnet (Bob Carroll), Bluebird (1940)
  • I Hear a Rhapsody
    Charlie Barnet (Bob Carroll), Bluebird (1940)
  • It's a Wonderful World
    Charlie Barnet (Mary Ann McCall), Bluebird (1940)
  • Where Was I?
    Charlie Barnet (Mary Ann McCall), Bluebird (1940)
  • You Got Me Voodoo'd
    Charlie Barnet (Mary Ann McCall), Bluebird (1940)
  • Afraid to Say Hello (Since You Said Goodbye)
    Charlie Barnet (Bob Carroll), Bluebird (1941)
  • That Old Black Magic
    Charlie Barnet (Frances Wayne), Decca (1942)
  • What a Difference a Day Made
    Charlie Barnet (Kay Starr), Decca (1944)
  • You Always Hurt the One You Love
    Charlie Barnet (Kay Starr), Decca (1944)

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

Radio

Previous <<
Play > Pause ||
Next >>
0:00 / 0:00
Select a program to play
Play All
  • One Night Stand: Charlie Barnet
    March 10, 1945 (AFRS) 29:42