Best remembered for his 1941 hit recording “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” Tommy Tucker was one of the most successful “Mickey Mouse” orchestra leaders of his day. His particular brand of slow dance music, aimed at the hotel ballroom audience, kept him at the top of his profession for nearly thirty years.
Tucker graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1929 with a degree in music. He formed his first band, Tommy Tucker and His Californians, that same year. The group made several recordings, with Tucker on vocals, before disbanding in the mid-1930s. In 1935, Tucker formed a new orchestra which quickly became popular on the hotel and ballroom circuit. The new band also found work on various radio programs, including Fibber McGee and Molly in 1936-37, George Jessel’s program in 1938, and NBC’s Pot O’Gold. Vocalists included Amy Arnell, Don Brown, Kerwin Sommerville, and a vocal grouping variously known as The Voices Three, The Voices Four, or even the Voices Five.
In 1944, Tucker attempted to put together a swing outfit. To help make the transition, he hired arrangers Van Alexander, Claude Hopkins, and Fred Norman. The experiment was a failure, and a year later he was back playing for the hotel crowd. His orchestra of the 1950s included saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and singer Eydie Gorme.
Tucker retired from the music business in 1959. He spent a year teaching high school English in New Jersey before accepting a position as Assistant Professor of Music at Monmouth College. He later became Dean of the Music Department. He retired in 1978 and spent his remaining years in Florida.
Aside from leading his orchestra, Tucker ran a home furnishing store and founded the Tommy Tucker School of Music. He also owned his own song publishing company. Tommy Tucker died in 1989.