Monroe, Vaughn

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Monroe, Vaughn

Monroe, Vaughn, American singer, bandleader, and trumpeter; b. Akron, Ohio, Oct. 7, 1911; d. Stuart, Fla., May 21, 1973. As both an orchestra leader and a solo singer, Monroe successfully straddled the Swing Era and the “sing era” that followed it in popular music. His sonorous baritone did well with ballads such as “There! I’ve Said It Again” and “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” and worked equally well on specialty material such as the seasonal “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and the Western-themed “Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend),” both of which were chart-topping hits for him. All told, Monroe had 25 Top-Ten hits between 1940 and 1954.

The son of Ira C. and Mabel Louisa Maahs Monroe, Vaughn Monroe grew up in Wise, where he took up the trumpet at age 11 and won a statewide contest on the instrument at 15. Although he aspired to become an opera singer, he began singing and playing in dance bands around Pittsburgh to help pay for his tuition at the Carnegie Inst. of Technology, which he attended from 1929 to 1932. He dropped out of school to play with the orchestra of Austin Wylie in Cleveland, then worked with Larry Funk’s Orch. from 1933 to 1936 while taking courses at the New England Cons, of Music. He joined the orchestra of bandleader and booker Jack Marshard in Boston in 1936; in 1937 he began fronting one of Marshard’s bands. In 1939 he organized his own sweet society orchestra for an engagement at Seller’s Ten Acres, a roadhouse in Wayland, Mass., then dissolved it and reorganized a more swingoriented unit that debuted in April 1940. On April 2 he married Marian Baughman; they had two daughters.

Monroe signed to RCA Victor Records and began recording for its discount- priced Bluebird subsidiary. (After two years he was promoted to the main label.) His first hit, ’There I Go” (music by Irving Weiser, lyrics by Hy Zart), peaked in the Top Ten in December 1940. In the spring of 1941 he gained national attention with an appearance at Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook in Cedar Grove, N.J., one of the premier venues for swing bands, and he performed from the hall in the first remote broadcast on the national radio series Matinee at Meadowbrook on May 24. He had his first regular spot on radio with the quiz show How’m I Doiri? from January to October 1942. That October he finally scored a second Top Ten hit with “My Devotion” (music and lyrics by Roc Hillman and Johhny Napton), then returned to the Top Ten in December with the war-themed “When the Lights Go on Again (All over the World)” (music and lyrics by Eddie Seiler, Sol Marcus, and Bennie Benjamin).

Like other recording artists, Monroe was stymied by the musicians’ union recording ban that prevailed during the war years, but he paired with his female vocal group, the Four Lee Sisters, for an a cappella recording of “Let’s Get Lost” (music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Frank Loesser) that reached the Top Ten in June 1943. He appeared with his band in the motion picture Meet the People, released in September 1944. With the lifting of the ban in November 1944, he quickly scored several Top Ten hits, including a duet with his female singer, Marilyn Duke, on “The Trolley Song” (music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane) in January 1945; “Rum and Coca-Cola” (music and lyrics by Morey Amsterdam, Paul Baron, and Jeri Sullivan, based on a song with music and lyrics by Massie Patterson and Lionel Belasco) in March; and “There! I’ve Said It Again” (music and lyrics by Redd Evans and Dave Mann), which went to #1 in May and sold a million copies. In November he topped the album charts with On the Moonbeam.

Monroe’s recording of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn) hit #1 in January 1946 and became a seasonal standard. He returned to the Top Ten in April with “Seems Like Old Times” (music and lyrics by Carmen Lombardo and John Jacob Loeb). His popularity led to his hosting the long-running radio series The Camel Caravan starting on July 4, 1946. Running for nearly eight years, it was also known as The Vaughn Monroe Show. The series, in turn, boosted his popularity further, and he scored many hit recordings during the next three years. His album Vaughn Monroe’s Dreamland was a Top Ten hit in November 1946. In May 1947 he appeared in the film Carnegie Hall, then reached the Top Ten of the singles charts with “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser), “Kokomo, Indiana” (music by Josef Myrow, lyrics by Mack Gordon) in October, and “You Do” (music by Myrow, lyrics by Gordon) in November. He then topped the charts with the millionselling “Ballerina” (music and lyrics by Bob Russell and Carl Sigman) in December.

In 1948, “How Soon? (Will I Be Seeing You)” (music and lyrics by Carroll Lucas and Jack Owens) became a Top Ten single in January. The album Down Memory Lane hit #1 in March, and “Cool Water” (music and lyrics by Bob Nolan) reached the Top Ten in October. Due to a second recording ban, Monroe recorded the Western-styled “Cool Water” a cappella with the Sons of the Pioneers.

Monroe enjoyed his most successful year as a recording artist in 1949. In January his album Vaughn Monroe Sings went to #1. In April, “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” (music and lyrics by Sid Tepper and Roy Brodsky) was in the Top Ten. The biggest hit of his career was “Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)” (music and lyrics by Stan Jones), which topped the charts in May and was the most popular song of the year. The album Silver Lining made the Top Ten in August. “Someday” (music and lyrics by Jimmie Hodges) hit #1 in September. “That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls around Heaven All Day)” (music by Beasley Smith, lyrics by Haven Gillespie) was in the Top Ten in October, and his version of “Mule Train” (music and lyrics by Johnny Lange, Hy Heath, and Fred Glickman) reached the Top Ten in December.

Monroe was back in the Top Ten with “Bamboo” (music by Nat Simon, lyrics by Buddy Bernier) in February 1950, but his success on radio and records brought him other opportunities that prevented him from doing much recording during the year. He starred in the Western film Singing Guns, released in June, appeared with his orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in N.Y. in September, and launched a television version of his Camel Caravan radio series in October. The show ran through the 1950–51 season.

Monroe returned to the Top Ten in the spring of 1951 with a series of novelty records: “Sound Off (The Duckworth Chant)” (music and lyrics by Willie Lee Duckworth, based on an Army marching drill), “On Top of Old Smokey” (music and lyrics by Pete Seeger, based on the traditional folk song), and “Old Soldiers Never Die” (music and lyrics by Tom Glazer, inspired by General Douglas MacArthur’s speech to Congress after being dismissed from duty in Korea). He appeared in a second Western film, The Toughest Man in Arizona, in October 1952. He disbanded his orchestra in 1953 and began to appear as a solo singer. His radio series ended in April 1954. In August, The Vaughn Monroe Show went back on television as a twice-a-week, 15-minute summer replacement show; it also ran during the summer of 1955. Monroe scored a final Top Ten hit with ’They Were Doin’ the Mambo” (music and lyrics by Don Raye and Sonny Burke) in October 1954 and continued to reach the charts occasionally through 1959. During the 1956–57 television season he hosted the musical variety series Air Time ’57, and he also appeared on TV as a spokesman for RCA.

By the 1960s, Monroe had largely retired from music, though he made occasional appearances, especially in Las Vegas. He owned and managed the Meadows, a club and restaurant in Framingham, Mass. He died at the age of 61 in 1973 after a long illness. In the 1990s a Vaughn Monroe ghost orchestra under the direction of Bill Davies was active.

—William Ruhlmann

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Monroe, Vaughn

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