Kaye, Sammy (actually, Samuel), American

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Kaye, Sammy (actually, Samuel), American

Kaye, Sammy (actually, Samuel), American bandleader and reed player; b. Rocky River, Ohio, March 13, 1910; d. Ridgeway, N. J., June 2, 1987. Kaye’s orchestra, sometimes billed as Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye, was one of the most popular bands of the Swing Era. Kaye’s personal appearances and radio and television programs were sparked by such entertaining elements as his “so you want to lead a band” audience participation contests and his reciting of poetry submitted by his fans. He also made a long series of popular recordings, reaching the charts from 1937 to 1964, his biggest hits being “Daddy,” “Chickery Chick,” “The Old Lamp-Lighter,” and “Harbor Lights.”

The first-generation son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Kaye organized his first band while studying civil engineering at Ohio Univ. After graduation he turned to bandleading professionally in 1933, first playing in Cleveland, then moving to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. He made his recording debut for Vocalion Records on April 14, 1937. His first recording to reach the hit parade, “Rosalie” (music and lyrics by Cole Porter), went to #1 in January 1938. “Love Walked In” (music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin) followed, topping the hit parade in May. His third hit-parade entry, “When They Played the Polka” (music by Fabian André, lyrics by Lou Hölzer), came in July. His fourth, “All Ashore” (music and lyrics by Billy Hill), coincided with his November debut at the Commodore Hotel in N.Y., where he maintained a residency for years, and was his first release through RCA Victor, the label with which he recorded until 1950.

Kaye returned to the hit parade for two weeks in February 1939 with “Hurry Home” (music and lyrics by Joseph Meyer, Buddy Bernier, and Bob Emmerich). On Jan. 1, 1940, he began a weekly half-hour radio series, Sensation and Swing, the first of many radio programs that would bolster his popularity during the 1940s and 1950s, notably Sunday Serenade and So You Want to Lead a Band. He returned to the hit parade in April 1940 with “Let There Be Love” (music by Lionel Rand, lyrics by Ian Grant).

Kaye scored occasional Top Ten hits during the early 1940s, including the self-penned “Until Tomorrow (Goodnight My Love)” in May 1941, his biggest all-time hit; the chart-topping “Daddy” (music and lyrics by Bobby Troup) in June 1941; “Remember Pearl Harbor” (music and lyrics by Don Reid and Kaye) in February 1942; and “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin) in September 1942. (During this period he was married to a woman named Ruth.) He also appeared in two films, Iceland, released in October 1942, and Song of the Open Road, released in June 1944.

But Kaye’s greatest period of success on records came during the second half of the 1940s. In 1945 he reached the Top Ten 11 times, most successfully with the chart-topping “Chickery Chick” (music by Sidney Lippman, lyrics by Sylvia Dee) and “Don’t Fence Me In” (music and lyrics by Cole Porter); he had another eight Top Ten hits in 1946, the most popular of which were “The Old Lamp-Lighter” (music by Nat Simon, lyrics by Charles Tobias) and “I’m a Big Girl Now” (music and lyrics by Al Hoffman, Milton Drake, and Jerry Livingston), each of which hit #1; the biggest of his three Top Ten hits in 1947 was “That’s My Desire” (music by Helmy Kresa, lyrics by Carroll Loveday); among the three Top Ten hits he scored in 1948, the most popular was “Serenade of the Bells” (music and lyrics by Kay Twomey, Al Goodhart, and Al Urbano); and among his four Top Ten hits in 1949 was “Room Full of Roses” (music and lyrics by Tim Spencer). He also began to score with his albums, reaching the Top Ten in 1945 with Stephen Foster and in 1948 with Dusty Manuscripts.

Kaye enjoyed as much success at the beginning of the 1950s as he had in the previous several years. In March 1950 he hit the album charts with the Top Ten hit Sammy Kaye Plays Irving Berlin; in May, “It Isn’t Fair” (music by Richard Himber, Frank Warshauer, and Sylvester Sprigato, lyrics by Himber) went to #1 and “Roses” (music and lyrics by Tim Spencer and Glenn Spencer) hit the Top Ten on the singles charts; and in June, “Wanderin”’ (music and lyrics by Kaye, based on a folk song discovered by Carl Sandburg) hit the Top Ten. On June 11, Kaye premiered a television version of So You Want to Lead a Band, the first of a series of television shows he would host off and on throughout the 1950s.

Kaye switched to Columbia Records and topped the charts with his first record for the label, “Harbor Lights” (music by Hugh Williams, a pseudonym for Will Grosz, lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy), in November 1950. This proved to be his last major hit, but he returned to the Top 40 with an instrumental version of “Charade” (music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer) in 1964, and he maintained his orchestra until his death from cancer in 1987 at the age of 77, after which it was led by Roger Thorpe.

—William Ruhlmann

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Kaye, Sammy (actually, Samuel), American

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