Johnny Warrington

Arranger and tenor saxist Johnny Warrington led a popular radio and regional orchestra in the eastern Pennsylvania area during the early 1940s. Though not well-known outside his home territory, Warrington’s band played top spots, often drawing the same crowds and earning the same pay as nationally-known name bands.

Warrington had a long history on Philadelphia radio. He joined Jan Savitt’s orchestra at KYW in 1936 and was said to have helped put the band together. Savitt later moved to radio station WCAU before taking his orchestra onto the national stage in early 1938. Most of Savitt’s musicians, including Warrington, did not wish to travel and stayed in Philadelphia, forcing Savitt to assemble an almost totally new band. Joey Kearns replaced Savitt as musical director at WCAU, hiring many of his former men. Warrington worked with Ken Martin’s band at KWY in 1939 but later joined Kearns at WCAU. Warrington also arranged for Vaughn Monroe in the early 1940s.[1]

When Kearns received his draft notice in fall 1942, Warrington took over as WCAU’s musical director, dropping the orchestra’s string section and putting all the musicians on notice, hiring back only those he wanted. Warrington often had top musicians and singers in his band. Former Harry James vocalist Jimmy Saunders, who had worked with Kearns prior to joining James, sang with Warrington’s radio orchestra in late 1942 and early 1943, though was not a permanent member. Dolores O’Neill, who had formerly sang with Artie Shaw, Jack Teagarden, and Bob Chester, briefly sang with the band in early 1943. Marion Mason was the band’s regular female vocalist in early 1943, remaining through at least October. Sax player Harry Roberts sang novelty tunes that relied on dialect. Former Savitt singer Bon Bon joined Warrington in the later half of 1943, and soon after Bon Bon’s arrival Warrington began to take the band on the road, playing regional locations.

Warrington announced his intention to quit WCAU at the beginning of 1944 and take his orchestra on a national tour, hoping to build his name recognition beyond the region. He changed his mind, however, and remained at the radio station for another year. Bon Bon remained with the band until summer 1944 when he left after being denied the chance to sing at Atlantic City’s famous Steel Pier due to its policy of allowing only white performers on its stage. Dawn Fredericks was female vocalist in July 1944. A young Gerry Mulligan briefly worked for Warrington, writing arrangements for the group in 1944. Warrington’s band that year also featured trumpet player Alec Fila, who had worked for Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.[2]

Warrington finally quit WCAU in January 1945, planning again on a national tour. The tour either never happened or didn’t go as expected as nothing further was mentioned about it. In late 1945 and early 1946, Warrington lead the backing orchestra for Connie Haines and June Richmond on their Mercury recordings. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he became a prolific stock arranger. Many modern-day big bands still use his arrangements. In 1960, he conducted dance band clinics at local high schools around the country.


  1. Sources are all over the place on where Savitt got his start. Most later sources say WCAU, but earlier sources say KYW. Savitt seems to have been at both, starting at one and moving to the other. Warrington was definitely at KYW in 1939 however. ↩︎

  2. Fila was the husband of vocalist Dolores O’Neill. ↩︎


  1. “Saved by a Stork.” Billboard 14 Oct. 1939: 10.
  2. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 26 Sep. 1942: 21.
  3. “Johnny Warrington, Dizzy Gillespie Form Own Bands.” Billboard 24 Oct. 1942: 25.
  4. “Program Reviews: Open House.” Billboard 27 Feb. 1943: 9.
  5. “Wattalife! Juicy Date Has To Be Peddled Around.” Billboard 6 Mar. 1943: 22.
  6. Cummings, Rube. “Nucleus of Savitt Crew Sparks Warrington Ork In Philly Radio Station.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1943: 13.
  7. “On the Stand: Johnny Warrington.” Billboard 16 Oct. 1943: 16.
  8. “Johnny Warrington Snubs Agency Bids; WCAU Tie Ends Jan.” Billboard 13 Nov. 1943: 16.
  9. “How Johnny Warrington Doubles from Ballrooms To WCAU Radio Station.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1944: 2.
  10. “New Numbers.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1944: 10.
  11. “Another Air House Maestro Seeks $$ Via Road Tour Route.” Billboard 4 Nov. 1944: 4.
  12. “Philly Radio Ork Tries Road Test.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1944: 4.
  13. Advertisement. “Mercury Records.” Billboard 19 Jan. 1946: 30.
  14. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 9 Mar. 1946: 33.
  15. Oliver, Sy and Dick Jacobs. “Arrangers' Corner.” Down Beat 11 Aug. 1948: 18.
  16. Broyles, Phil. “Orchestration Reviews.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1949: 16.
  17. Broyles, Phil. “Orchestration Reviews.” Down Beat 27 Jan. 1950: 16.
  18. Broyles, Phil. “Orchestration Reviews.” Down Beat 14 Dec. 1951: 16.
  19. “Up Beat Section: Minor League Dance Bands.” Down Beat 21 Jul. 1960: 59.