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Martin, Freddy

Martin, Freddy

Martin, Freddy, American bandleader and saxophonist; b. Cleveland, Ohio, Dec. 9, 1906; d. Newport Beach, Calif., Oct. 1, 1983. Among the most popular swing bandleaders of the 1940s, Freddy Martin specialized in adapting themes from the classics into popular tunes. His biggest hits were “Piano Concerto in B-Flat,” “Symphony,” “To Each His Own,” and “Managua, Nicaragua.”

Orphaned at age four, Martin was raised in an orphanage in Springfield, Ohio, until he was 16; there he learned to play the drums and the saxophone. He got a job demonstrating saxophones in a music store in Cleveland and played in a student group at Ohio State Univ. Turning professional, he played in several groups, including Eddy Hodges and His Band of Pirates, Jack Albin’s band, the Mason-Dixon Orch., and the band of Arnold Johnson. When Johnson retired, Martin took over his band and opened at the Hotel Bossert in Brooklyn on Oct. 1, 1931. He signed to Columbia Records in 1932 and held his first recording session on Aug. 24. His first successful record, “In the Park in Paree” (music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Robin), in May 1933, was credited to the Hotel Bossert Orch. Switching to Brunswick Records, he had his first hit under his own name, “Bless Your Heart” (music and lyrics by Duke Enston, Harry Stride, and Milton Drake), in September. His first big hit was “I Saw Stars” (music and lyrics by Maurice Sigler, Al Goodheart, and Al Hoffman), which became a best-seller in September 1934.

Martin moved from the Hotel Bossert to the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan and subsequently to other hotels in N.Y., Chicago, and San Francisco before establishing a long-term residency at the Cocoanut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1938. Meanwhile, he scored a series of modest hits through the late 1930s. But he didn’t top the charts until he recorded a version of Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto [No. 1] in B-Flat” that he had arranged with Ray Austin. The instrumental recording went to #1 in October 1941 and sold a million copies, setting off a trend of adapting the classics. Martin also recorded a vocal version of the tune with lyrics by Bobby Worth, titled “Tonight We Love,” and it peaked in the Top Ten in January 1942.

Martin made a series of successful recordings during the rest of the 1940s. His 1942 version of “White Christmas” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin) was a million-seller; the album Tchaikowsky Nutcracker Suite was a Top Ten hit during the holiday season of 1945; “Symphony” (music by Alex Alstone, English lyrics by Jack Lawrence) reached #1 at the start of 1946; “To Each His Own” (music and lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans) topped the charts in August 1946; “Managua, Nicaragua” (music by Irving Fields, lyrics by Albert Gamse) was #1 in February 1947; and the album Concerto hit the charts in March 1947 and reached the Top Ten. Meanwhile, Martin and his band made special appearances in several films:Mayor of 44th Street (June 1942); Seven Days’ Leave (December 1942); Hit Parade of 1943 (April 1943); Stage Door Canteen (June 1943); and What’s Buzziri Cousin? (July 1943).

Merv Griffin, later a successful talk show host and casino owner, was Martin’s vocalist from 1948 to 1952. In May 1948, Martin’s voice was used in the Disney animated film Melody Time. The Freddy Martin Show, a musical variety series, premiered on NBC-TV on July 12, 1951, and ran weekly through Nov. 28. Martin scored his last chart record with “April in Portugal (The Whisp’ring Serenade)” (music by Raul Ferrao, English lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy) in May 1953. But unlike other bandleaders, he was able to maintain his organization long after the decline of the Swing era. He backed Elvis Presley at an engagement in Las Vegas in 1956 and appeared beside early rock ’n’ roll figures in the films The Big Beat (June 1958) and Senior Prom (January 1959). Though he cut back on touring by the 1970s, he continued to work until shortly before his death at age 76 after a series of strokes.

—William Ruhlmann

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