Orrin Tucker

Photo of Orrin Tucker
  • Born

    February 17, 1911
    St. Louis, Missouri
  • Died

    April 9, 2011 (age 100)
    South Pasadena, California

Though he had stud­ied to be a doc­tor, Orrin Tucker ended up as a singer and band­leader. He was lead­ing a suc­cess­ful, though not well-known, or­ches­tra in 1939 when his fe­male vo­cal­ist, Wee Bonnie Baker, recorded an old WWI tune called Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh!” With the help of her sexy sighs and coos, Tucker sud­denly found him­self with a hit record and one of the hottest bands in the coun­try. Tucker, though, did­n’t let fame go to his head. He re­al­ized his lim­i­ta­tions and knew his or­ches­tra’s strength, and that strength was in play­ing dance mu­sic for the mid­dle-aged crowd. That he con­tin­ued to do, very suc­cess­fully, long af­ter many of his con­tem­po­raries had called it quits.

Tucker learned to play sax­o­phone as a youth and formed his first band while in col­lege. An agent from Chicago saw the band and in­vited them to play in New Orleans. Borrowing money from a bank, Tucker funded the band’s trip, though they had no way of get­ting back. Luckily, while in New Orleans, they were in­vited to per­form in Kansas City, where they found their own agent.

Playing mostly lo­cal the­aters, Tucker built a se­ries of boxes for his mu­si­cians that fea­tured lighted notes of dif­fer­ent shapes and col­ors for dif­fer­ent sec­tions that would flash ac­cord­ingly dur­ing each song. For the band’s stein song he used a set of three-sided mugs on which could be painted, in flu­o­res­cent paints, let­ters that could spell out the name of the town or the the­ater in which they were play­ing. Such gim­micks quickly helped make the or­ches­tra’s name.

During the early years, Tucker was sole vo­cal­ist un­til Louis Armstrong pointed him to Bonnie Baker in 1936. Baker’s cute voice was just the thing to help push the group over the top. Columbia Records signed them in 1939, with Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!” be­ing one of songs in their first record­ing ses­sion. It re­mained their most pop­u­lar num­ber, reach­ing the num­ber two spot on the pop charts. Other vo­cal­ists over the years in­cluded Helen Lee and Scottee Marsh.

During WWII, Tucker served in the Navy as a Lieutenant, Junior Grade. He re­mained ac­tive in the mu­sic busi­ness un­til health prob­lems forced him to slow down dur­ing the 1990s. Orrin Tucker lived to be 100, pass­ing away in 2011.

Music

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  • Havin' Myself a Time
    Orrin Tucker (Bonnie Baker), Vocalion (1937)
  • Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!
    Orrin Tucker (Bonnie Baker), Columbia (1939)
  • You'd Be Surprised
    Orrin Tucker (Bonnie Baker), Columbia (1939)

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