The Pied Pipers

Photo of The Pied Pipers

Best re­mem­bered for their early work with Tommy Dorsey, the Pied Pipers orig­i­nally con­sisted of eight mem­bers, seven men and one woman. The octet was formed in Los Angeles dur­ing the mid-1930s, an amal­ga­ma­tion of two groups, the Rhythm Kings and the Esquires, plus Jo Stafford. Their styl­ish har­monies proved ap­peal­ing, and they be­gan work­ing at lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions and record­ing for Hollywood sound­tracks. They soon at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Dorsey arrangers Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl.

In 1938, Weston per­suaded Dorsey to give the Pied Pipers a spot on the Raleigh-Kool Show, a pop­u­lar ra­dio pro­gram. All eight mem­bers piled into two cars and drove to New York, with no promise of work other than one shot on the ra­dio. The show went well though, and they were signed to ap­pear for ten weeks, but just as every­thing seemed to be go­ing their way, dis­as­ter struck. During their sec­ond pro­gram, the spon­sor heard them for the first time, did­n’t like them, and promptly fired them. The Pipers re­mained in New York for seven more months, land­ing only one job the whole time from which they made $3.60 each, though they did record four sides for RCA Victor dur­ing their stay.

Returning to Los Angeles, the group lost four mem­bers to reg­u­lar jobs on the way. The re­main­ing mem­bers (Stafford, her then-hus­band John Huddleston, Billy Wilson and Chuck Lowry) strug­gled to make a liv­ing and were on the verge of call­ing it quits when, in 1939, they re­ceived an of­fer from Dorsey to join his or­ches­tra. Shortly af­ter, Wilson was re­placed by Clark Yocum, who had pre­vi­ously sang and played gui­tar for Mal Halletts or­ches­tra.

With Dorsey, the Pipers fi­nally found suc­cess. Stafford was fea­tured solo on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, and the group backed Frank Sinatra on many of his early num­bers. The Pied Pipers re­mained with Dorsey un­til Thanksgiving Day 1942, when Dorsey ex­ploded at one of the mem­bers, ig­nit­ing an ar­gu­ment with the whole group, who promptly quit. They were im­me­di­ately hired by three ra­dio sta­tions.

Huddleston left the group to join the ser­vice that same year. He was re­placed by Hal Hopper, who had been one of the orig­i­nal eight mem­bers. In 1943, the Pipers were signed by Johnny Mercer to his newly-formed la­bel, Capitol Records. Stafford left the group in 1944 to pur­sue a solo ca­reer and was re­placed by June Hutton, half-sis­ter of band­leader Ina Ray Hutton and a for­mer mem­ber of Charlie Spivak vo­cal group the Stardusters. The Pipers went on to record sev­eral hits dur­ing the re­main­der of the 1940s, in­clud­ing Dream,” their first mil­lion seller.

In 1947, Huddleston sued the group plus ex-wife Stafford for breach of con­tract. When he had en­tered the ser­vice, his spot in the quar­tet was to be guar­an­teed upon his re­turn, but he was not al­lowed to re­join when that time came.

The group’s pop­u­lar­ity be­gan to wane in the late 1940s, and the mem­bers drifted off into per­sonal pur­suits. Hutton left the quar­tet in 1949 and recorded sev­eral solo al­bums for Capitol, backed by hus­band Alex Stordahl’s or­ches­tra. Hopper went on to play a reg­u­lar role as Corporal Clark on the tele­vi­sion se­ries The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. He also ap­peared in sev­eral films, in­clud­ing the clas­sic Beau Geste and the Ann-Margret ve­hi­cle Kitten with a Whip. Hutton passed away in 1973, Hopper in 1970. Jo Stafford in 2008. A group bear­ing the Pied Pipers’ name still tours to­day.

Music

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  • I'll Never Smile Again
    Tommy Dorsey (Frank Sinatra, Pied Pipers), Victor (1940)
  • Oh, Look at Me Now
    Tommy Dorsey (Frank Sinatra), Victor (1941)
  • On the Sunny Side of the Street
    Jo Stafford, Capitol (1944)

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Films

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  • Screenshot
    "It Started All Over Again"
    The Pied Pipers
    from the film Jam Session, Columbia (1944)

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Radio

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  • Silver Platter: Andy Russell, Marion Hutton, Pied Pipers
    1948 (AFRS) 15:31

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  3. “T.D. Plans to Use Strings in His Ork.” Billboard 9 May 1942: 25.
  4. “Jo Stafford and Gracie Fields Set for Summer.” Billboard 3 Jun. 1944: 6.
  5. “'Chesterfield Music Shop' Gets Wendall Niles & Pipers.” Billboard 10 Jun. 1944: 11.
  6. “Popular Record Reviews.” Billboard 25 Nov. 1944: 21.
  7. “Popular Record Reviews.” Billboard 16 Dec. 1944: 21.
  8. “Jo Stafford Suit Settled for $9000.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune 12 Jun. 1947: 2.
  9. “Network and Local Program Reviews.” Billboard 3 Apr. 1948: 10.