Vaughn Monroe

Photo of Vaughn Monroe
  • Born

    October 7, 1911
    Akron, Ohio
  • Died

    May 21, 1973 (age 61)
    Stuart, Florida

Though not as well re­mem­bered as other band­lead­ers of the 1940s, Vaughn Monroe led one of the most pop­u­lar or­ches­tras of that decade and ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful. His was one of the few to pros­per dur­ing the band bust of 1946. When many top lead­ers, in­clud­ing Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Les Brown, scrapped their or­ches­tras due to fi­nan­cial losses, Monroe con­tin­ued break­ing both sales and box of­fice records through the end of the decade, re­main­ing prof­itable even with a large 21-piece out­fit.

Part of the rea­son for Monroe’s suc­cess was due to his added pop­u­lar­ity as a vo­cal­ist. While crit­ics reg­u­larly panned his voice, the pub­lic loved it, and polls of­ten ranked him as fa­vorite male vo­cal­ist be­hind only Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. After the war, when the tide of pub­lic fa­vor turned to singers in­stead of bands Monroe could nav­i­gate suc­cess­fully in both worlds. Record la­bel RCA Victor as­tutely fo­cused on Monroe’s voice. His band recorded few in­stru­men­tals and in­stead churned out a long list of sweet ro­man­tic num­bers that best em­pha­sized his some­what lim­ited vo­cal abil­i­ties. Monroe him­self dis­liked this fo­cus on his voice, but as an en­ter­tainer he be­lieved in giv­ing the pub­lic what they wanted.

Early Years

Born in Akron, Ohio, Monroe mas­tered the trum­pet in his youth, win­ning a statewide con­test as a teenager. He formed his first four-piece band while in grade school and be­gan pro­fes­sion­ally singing with swing bands while at­tend­ing high school in Jeanette, Pennsylvania. Young Vaughn also di­rected a church choir and had am­bi­tions to be­come an opera singer, though he even­tu­ally de­cided against that ca­reer choice as he felt there was­n’t enough money in it.

After mov­ing to the Boston area, Monroe worked with Larry Funk’s or­ches­tra be­fore join­ing Jack Marshard’s band in 1937 as trum­pet player and vo­cal­ist. Marshard was so im­pressed with Monroe’s abil­i­ties and charisma that he turned the band over to the young man and worked be­hind the scenes as its man­ager, a po­si­tion he re­tained un­til his un­timely death from an auto ac­ci­dent in 1948.

Monroe spent sev­eral years build­ing a solid rep­u­ta­tion in the Northeast, record­ing for both Bluebird and RCA Victor, be­fore com­ing to New York in October 1941, where the band played its first en­gage­ment at the Hotel Commodore. Billboard mag­a­zine’s 1941 col­lege poll named the or­ches­tra as the top up-and-com­ing band, and it did­n’t take long for the group to be­come the hottest act in town. In a few short months, they’d placed sec­ond in a lo­cal ra­dio poll, be­hind Glenn Miller and ahead of Tommy Dorsey, and fin­ished sixth in Billboards 1942 over­all band poll. Monroe him­self placed fifth as best male vo­cal­ist in Billboards poll that year.

MGM signed Monroe’s or­ches­tra to a film con­tract in 1942 and picked them the fol­low­ing year to star in what would even­tu­ally be­come Abbott and Costello’s Lost in a Harem. September 1943, though, saw many name band­lead­ers re­clas­si­fied as 1-A by the draft board, and Monroe soon re­ceived his let­ter. He put the band on no­tice, and they played their last per­for­mance in October. When Monroe re­ported for in­duc­tion, how­ever, he was again clas­si­fied 4-F, and he quickly worked to re-or­ga­nize the group. Jimmy Dorseys or­ches­tra even­tu­ally ended up in the film. It was­n’t un­til 1944 that Monroe’s group made its first sil­ver screen ap­pear­ance, Meet the People, with Lucille Ball and Dick Powell.

Monroe’s or­ches­tra ranked tenth in Billboards 1943 col­lege poll with Monroe fifth as male vo­cal­ist again. His pop­u­lar­ity re­mained high into 1944, when he found him­self on the cover of Billboards January 8, 1944, is­sue. When the American Federation of Musicians fi­nally lifted their two-year-long record­ing ban in November, RCA Victor rushed Monroe’s group into the stu­dio the fol­low­ing morn­ing, mak­ing it their first or­ches­tra to record af­ter the ban, and the re­sult­ing re­lease, Trolley Song,” hit num­ber one and be­came the group’s biggest hit to date.

1945-1950

Riding on the suc­cess of Trolley Song,” 1945 proved a strong year for Monroe. The sum­mer re­lease of There, I’ve Said It Again” be­came a smash hit, fin­ish­ing as one of the top ten biggest sell­ing records of that year. Monroe also earned an­other Billboard cover and placed third as best male vo­cal­ist in the col­lege poll. The or­ches­tra over­all placed fifth. For the hol­i­day sea­son, Monroe re­leased Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” which topped sales records again, mak­ing him one of the hottest acts go­ing into 1946. Polls that year placed him at third for male vo­cal­ist, while band polls placed him var­i­ously in the top ten, in­clud­ing a num­ber one spot.

1946 also saw Monroe earn his own ra­dio show. Slated as a sum­mer re­place­ment for Abbott and Costello, the pro­gram proved so pop­u­lar that spon­sor Camel cig­a­rettes turned it into a full-time se­ries which lasted un­til 1954. It con­sis­tently placed as the top-rated or­ches­tra pro­gram dur­ing the late 1940s.

When many name or­ches­tras went bust in late 1946, Monroe re­mained un­af­fected by the down­turn in the band busi­ness, again plac­ing high in polls dur­ing 1947 and break­ing box of­fice records. Monroe and the band also ap­peared in the 1947 Federal Films pro­duc­tion Carnegie Hall. 1948 be­came an even big­ger year for Monroe. His re­lease of Ballerina” hit num­ber one in January on every mu­sic chart but the coun­try and race charts, hold­ing that ac­com­plish­ment for three weeks in a row. It be­came Monroe’s biggest sell­ing record to date and earned him yet an­other Billboard cover.

Monroe was on top of the mu­sic world go­ing into 1949. A two-month tour early that year pulled in an un­heard of half-a-mil­lion dol­lars in profit, mak­ing front page news in trade pa­pers. Hollywood called again, with Monroe sign­ing to Republic pic­tures for a mu­si­cal west­ern. The sign­ing prompted a se­ries of west­ern themed songs from the singer, in­clud­ing Riders in the Sky,” which earned him yet an­other Billboard cover and be­came Monroe’s top sell­ing record of all-time, fin­ish­ing num­ber one for the year in both re­tails sales and juke­box plays. With two more records in the year’s top thirty, Monroe him­self fin­ished at num­ber one over­all in re­tail sales and num­ber two in juke­box plays.

Monroe again placed high in 1948 polls, with the or­ches­tra tak­ing top spot in the col­lege round. 1949 would prove his wa­ter­shed year, how­ever. He took a break from the band to film Singing Gun, which was re­leased in 1950, though the band con­tin­ued per­form­ing. That year also saw the launch of his own tele­vi­sion va­ri­ety pro­gram, which fo­cused on Monroe as a singer in­stead of a band­leader. The show was can­celled af­ter one year, though a sec­ond Monroe pro­gram in 1954 filled in the sum­mer slot for Dinah Shore. This shift in fo­cus away from be­ing pri­mar­ily a singer and band­leader sig­naled the be­gin­ning of his de­cline, de­spite his fifth Billboard cover ap­pear­ance in January 1950.

Vocalists

Monroe went through a string of fe­male vo­cal­ists. In the band’s early years Marilyn Duke mostly filled that role. Duke joined Vaughn in early 1941, re­plac­ing Mildred Law. Her voice be­came es­sen­tial to the or­ches­tra’s emerg­ing pop­u­lar­ity, and she is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with its rise to fame. Duke left the band in August 1943 but re­turned in that same month a year later. In her ab­sence, Phyllis Lynne took over vo­cal­ist du­ties un­til April 1944, then Dee Parker.

As Monroe rose in pop­u­lar­ity as a singer, the band’s fe­male vo­cal­ist spot be­came less and less im­por­tant over time and even­tu­ally came to be spot­lighted only dur­ing live shows or on the ra­dio. Duke left the or­ches­tra for good in early 1945, re­placed by Rosemary Calvin, who was in turn re­placed by Janie Reid mid-year. Sally Stuart took Reid’s place in January 1946.

Monroe used a va­ri­ety of back­ing vo­cal groups. In the or­ches­tra’s early days, four mem­bers of the band sang as The Four V’s. In mid-1942, Monroe added a fe­male vo­cal group, the Lee Sisters, known briefly at first as The Four M’s. The Murphy Sisters re­placed them in early 1943, with the four Norton Sisters re­plac­ing the Murphy Sisters in early 1945. When her sib­lings left in March 1946, along with Stuart, Betty Norton re­mained with Monroe as his fe­male vo­cal­ist.

Monroe stopped hir­ing out­side vo­cal group acts af­ter the Nortons de­par­ture and in­stead formed his own back­ing quar­tet, the Moonbeams, in March 1946. He quickly changed their name to the Moon Racers when he dis­cov­ered that Kay Kyser had used the Moonbeams name pre­vi­ously, then fur­ther ad­justed it to the Moon Maids, which re­mained the group’s moniker for the rest of its ex­is­tence. Monroe’s back­ing male vo­cal group, the Four V’s had be­come the Moon Men by 1949.

Betty Norton left as fe­male vo­cal­ist in May 1947, re­placed by Cissie Martin, who was re­placed by Madelyn Russell in early 1948. Russell left mid-year, and Monroe did­n’t im­me­di­ately sign an­other vo­cal­ist. Connie Haines took over as the fea­tured fe­male singer on the ra­dio pro­gram un­til Cece Blake joined the band in late 1948. Blake stayed un­til mid-1950.

Saxman Ziggy Talent sang nov­elty num­bers. He re­mained with Monroe through the end of the 1940s. His work was mostly heard dur­ing live per­for­mances and on the ra­dio, and he was of­ten billed as a sep­a­rate act when the or­ches­tra played in vaude­ville the­aters. Talent was quite pop­u­lar, and in 1948 Monroe backed him on record­ings of his own. Johnny Bond also pro­vided nov­elty tunes from mid-1944 to mid-1945.

1950s and Beyond

As the early 1950s un­folded, Monroe dis­banded his or­ches­tra as a full-time con­cern. He con­tin­ued to sell records as a vo­cal­ist, though his pop­u­lar­ity slipped dra­mat­i­cally from its high in 1949. His men­tions in the press also be­gin to thin. He filmed an­other mu­si­cal west­ern, Toughest Man in Arizona, re­leased in 1952, and ap­peared as a guest on nu­mer­ous tele­vi­sion pro­grams of the era.

By the 1960s, rock and roll had firmly al­tered the mu­si­cal land­scape. Though Monroe had been able to sur­vive the band bust, he could­n’t com­pete with the younger artists who now dom­i­nated the charts, de­spite at­tempt­ing to stay rel­e­vant with chang­ing mu­si­cal tastes. In 1962, he made a slight come­back, re­leas­ing an al­bum of surf mu­sic, which fea­tured the song Mr. Moto.” He also ap­peared on an episode of Bonanza and hit the tele­vi­sion talk show cir­cuit. It was his last hur­rah.

Vaughn Monroe moved to Florida in the early 1960s. He con­tin­ued to record, per­form, and sell records up un­til his death in 1973, age 61, af­ter a long ill­ness that had in­cluded surgery re­lated to a stom­ach ail­ment.

Music

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  • G'Bye Now
    Vaughn Monroe (Marilyn Duke), RCA Victor (1941)
  • The Trolley Song
    Vaughn Monroe (Vaughn Monroe, Marilyn Duke), RCA Victor (1944)
  • Rum and Coca Cola
    Vaughn Monroe (Rosemary Calvin), RCA Victor (1945)
  • The Maharajah of Magador
    Vaughn Monroe (Ziggy Talent), RCA Victor (1948)

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

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  • One Night Stand: Vaughn Monroe
    February 6, 1945 (AFRS) 29:21
  • One Night Stand: Vaughn Monroe
    October 6, 1945 (AFRS) 29:06

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Vaughn Monroe.” IMDb. Accessed 3 Dec. 2015.
  3. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 4 Dec. 2015.
  4. “Eugenie Baird.” OTRRpedia. Accessed 5 Dec. 2015.
  5. Cohen, Joe. “Night Club Reviews: Hotel Commodore, Century Room, New York.” Billboard 24 Jan. 1942: 23.
  6. “Miller Wins WHN Contest.” Billboard 14 Feb. 1942: 7.
  7. “On the Air.” Billboard 25 Apr. 1942: 25.
  8. “Record Buying Guide.” Billboard 25 Apr. 1942: 72.
  9. “Helen O'Connel, Ray Eberle Win Pipe Honors in 1942 Poll.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  10. “Future Bandstand Kings.” Billboard 9 May 1942: 22.
  11. “Miller Tops.” Billboard 20 Jun. 1942: 23.
  12. “Talent and Tunes on Music Machines.” Billboard 27 Jun. 1942: 75.
  13. “Leading Music Machine Records.” Billboard 4 Jul. 1942: 22.
  14. “Night Clubs-Vaudeville: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 4 Jul. 1942: 19.
  15. “MGM Sings Monroe.” Billboard 1 Aug. 1942: 21.
  16. “Monroe Moving Up.” Billboard 10 Apr. 1943: 23.
  17. “On the Stand: Vaughn Monroe.” Billboard 24 Apr. 1942: 21.
  18. “Sweet Music Dominates as Students Pick Faves.” Billboard 29 May 1943: 23.
  19. “Sinatra, Helen Forrest Win College Poll.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  20. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Los Angeles.” Billboard 31 Jul. 1943: 28.
  21. “Phyliss Lynne With Vaughn Monroe Ork.” Billboard 7 Aug. 1943: 12.
  22. “Many Band Leaders Reclassified 1-A.” Billboard 2 Oct. 1943: 16.
  23. “Monroe's Induction Nears.” Billboard 6 Nov. 1943: 14.
  24. “Monroe, 4-F.” Billboard 20 Nov. 1943: 14.
  25. Cover. Billboard 8 Jan. 1944: 1.
  26. “Vaughn Monroe.” Billboard 8 Jan. 1944: 4.
  27. Smith, Bill. “On the Stand: Vaughn Monroe.” Billboard 8 Apr. 1944: 20.
  28. Secon, Paul. “Vaudeville Review: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 19 Aug. 1944: 25.
  29. “Broadway Showlog.” Billboard 14 Oct. 1944: 21.
  30. “Trolley Song No. 1.” Billboard 18 Nov. 1944: 63.
  31. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Minneapolis.” Billboard 14 Apr. 1945: 27.
  32. “They've Done It Again.” Billboard 21 Jul. 1945: 15.
  33. “Camp and Campus Disk Faves.” Billboard 28 Jul. 1945: 21.
  34. Cover. Billboard 29 Sep. 1945: 1.
  35. “Vaughn Monroe.” Billboard 29 Sep. 1945: 17.
  36. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand, New York.” Billboard 10 Nov. 1945: 36.
  37. “Music As Written.” Billboard 26 Jan. 1946: 21.
  38. “Vaudeville Reviews: Shea's Buffalo, Buffalo.” Billboard 2 Feb. 1946: 39.
  39. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 2 Mar. 1946: 40.
  40. “Music As Written.” Billboard 16 Mar. 1946: 25.
  41. “WIBG Names V. Monroe Tops.” Billboard 16 Mar. 1946: 109.
  42. “Monroe's Beams Are Racers Now.” Billboard 30 Mar. 1946: 25.
  43. “Crosby and Sinatra, Stafford and O'Day G.I.'s Vocal Faves.” Billboard 15 Jun. 1946: 39.
  44. “Monroe Gets A & C Camel Summer Slot.” Billboard 1 Jun. 1946: 19.
  45. “Cap and Gown Survey Orders Band-Singer Reshuffling.” Billboard 6 Jul. 1946: 3.
  46. “Block Poll Tops: Tex, Sinatra and Whiting.” Billboard 7 Sep. 1946: 37.
  47. Zhito, Lee. “On the Stand: Vaughn Monroe.” Billboard 7 Sep. 1946: 37.
  48. “On the Stand: Vaughn Monroe.” Billboard 16 Aug. 1947: 36.
  49. “Colleges Keep Frankie, Bing, Perry on Top.” Billboard 12 Jul. 1947: 3.
  50. “Full Season Score Shows Band Toppers.” Billboard 26 Jul. 1947: 18.
  51. “On the Stand: Vaughn Monroe.” Billboard 18 Oct. 1947: 35.
  52. Cover. Billboard 10 Jan. 1948: 1.
  53. “Number One Across the Music-Disk Board.” Billboard 10 Jan. 1948: 4.
  54. Tell, Jack. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand, New York.” Billboard 28 Feb. 1948: 42.
  55. “College Poll Winners 1938-1948.” Billboard 24 Apr. 1948: 6.
  56. “Music As Written.” Billboard 3 Jul. 1948: 36.
  57. “Music As Written.” Billboard 18 Sep. 1948: 36.
  58. Smith, Bill. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand, New York.” Billboard 6 Nov. 1948: 47.
  59. “Band Biz in Doldrums, Eh? Monroe's One-Nighters to Pull 500G in 2-Month Tour.” Billboard 29 Jan. 1949: 3.
  60. “Monroe Inked For Oat Film By Indie Firm.” Billboard 12 Mar. 1949: 23.
  61. “Monroe's 'Riders' Riding Hit.” Billboard 30 Apr. 1949: 18.
  62. Cover. Billboard 23 Apr. 1949: 1.
  63. “Collegians Put Crowns On.” Billboard 11 Jun. 1949: 18.
  64. “Crosby, Doris Day, Monroe.” Billboard 11 Jun. 1949: 19.
  65. Webman, Hal. “On the Stand: Vaughn Monroe.” Billboard 19 Nov. 1949: 20.
  66. “The Year's Top Popular Records.” Billboard 14 Jan. 1950: 14.
  67. “The Year's Top Pop Artists.” Billboard 14 Jan. 1950: 15.
  68. Cover. Billboard 21 Jan. 1950: 1.
  69. “Music As Written.” Billboard 17 Jun. 1950: 21.
  70. Lynn, Ruth. “Never a Sour Note, Says Dad of Vaughn Monroe.” St. Petersburg Times 30 Jun. 1961: 1-D.
  71. “Vaughn Monroe Critical.” The Evening Independent [St. Petersburg, FL] 12 May, 1973: 2-A.
  72. “Singer Vaughn Monroe dies at 62 after long illness.” The Montreal Gazette 22 May 1973: 52.