Almost King of Swing
It's A Family Affair
This biggest seller on RCA Victor until Elvis sold more on that label, and cohost of a TV show that introduced that same Presley to the world, was born November 19, 1905 in Shenandoah, PA to Theresa Dorsey. He was the younger brother by a little less than two years and copycat to his brother, Jimmy. That they both learned music was a given-- from a father, Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr., who not only taught music, but also directed bands.
Novelty Canary Ramblers
Even though Tommy became proficient earlier at trumpet, it was the trombone, smooth as silk, that would become his signature instrument. After the brothers did some radio work and played in several groups, they formed the Dorsey's Novelty Six in 1920; and two years later they changed it to Dorsey's Wild Canaries in time for their band's debut at an amusement park in Baltimore, MD. But until they became the Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra, in 1927, after piecing together musicians to record at Okeh, where they were either alone or paired in organizations including the Scranton Sirens, the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, The California Ramblers, and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
Early Recording, Instant Success
Okeh releases of Coquette made the charts in 1928, and by spring of next year Bing Crosby's singing Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love) broke the Top Ten. In 1934, after forming their more stable large ensemble, they hired Bing's brother, Bob to join them and their new label, Decca, and they had another hit with I Believe In Miracles and another the next year with Night Wind. 1935 also provided success with Kay Weber's singing Tiny Little Fingerprints. The hits kept coming that year with Bob Crosby's Lullaby of Broadway; and when he left another Bob, Eberly put out Chasing Shadows.
Boys, Go To Your Rooms!
The emergence of swing around 1935 would have coincided with the Dorsey Brothers except for one (or is that two?) problem(s): the brothers. Their bickering finally caused Tommy to leave, but not before Every Little Movement did well. While Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra eventually picked itself back up, their fumbling, falling coming out of the blocks --allowed Benny Goodman to jump in the spotlight, and eventualy get coronated this jazz dance sensation's top royalty. Tommy got his chance when he took the reins of the disintegrating Joe Haymes band and signed on with RCA Victor. Edythe Wright's vocals for On Treasure Island made it to the top --along with producing three other releases -- before that tumultous year ended.
How appropros for 1936 to start out with number one hit sung by Edythe, The Music Goes Round and Round and was followed by her numero uno, You. Cliff Weston sang them to the very top, also with Alone and Tommy's Orchestra would additionally have eight more apex smashes for that year.
Some of 1937's eighteen Top Ten disks would include the classic, even today, sung by Jack Leonard, Marie, an instrumental, Satan Takes a Holiday, and Edythe Wright encoring The Dipsy Doodle. The Big Apple and Once in a While are memorable recordings from this time as well.
1938 gave them another fifteen hits, of which Edythe's Music, Maestro, Please should be singled out, and the next year provided eleven best sellers including another number one by Jack Leonard, Our Love. Through his years Tommy Dorsey would utilize arrangers Sy Oliver, Paul Weston and Bill Finegan, whose creativity gave this band its velvet-toned and sometimes peppery trademark. Even though these vocalist were providing hits, Tommy did a bit of a shake up in the end of that year, bringing on Frank Sinatra, previously of Harry James' fame, and Connie Haines, replacing the departed Leonard and Wright, respectively. He also brought on board the quartet of singers - that included Jo Stafford, the Pied Pipers, and by 1940 would one wonder whether one bandleader shot himself in the muscial foot.
War Year Challenges
1940 gave the answer to the questions with ten recordings climbing into the decade mark, among the notables: Leonard's last for them, Indian Summer and All the Things You Are; but more fabulous is Frank Sinatra's I'll Never Smile Again, backed by the Pied Pipers. In spite of this, he did place to Glenn Miller's win, and the next year, even though they scored ten top tens, his group was third, as his brother's group bumped them. Delightful that year, however, was Dolores Sinatra-crooned on the film, Las Vegas Nights it deservably made it to the Charts' zenith. By 1942 World War II had caused logistic and labor problems, and the Musician's strike hurt even more; and to add to that the Pied Pipers must have said "follow me" in their defection.
Fortunately the movie industry was cranking out, and they joined the 'navy' for Ships Ahoy and that endeavor pumped out four more successes, giving Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra fifth place that stressful year and the next. 1943 saw four hits, including some from earlier recordings with Frank Sinatra, In the Blue of the Evening and There Are Such Things; and did three movies: Presenting Lily Mars, Dubarry Was a Lady, and Girl Crazy. In 1944, with the AMF boycott still on, RCA reissued (1938)Boogie Woogie and (1940) Sinatra's I'll Be Seeing You, while he did Broadway Rhythm for Hollywood's industry.
1945 was a year starting transitions, and after the strike was over, not only could he record six more top ten hits, but place them on the new charting category, the album, Getting Sentimental. By the end of spring he was in another movie, Thrill of a Romance and putting out another top ten album, Showboat. The end of the war seemed to be the end of Big Bands, unfortunately, and before Christmas of 1946, he disbanded; but they still released album and single chart toppers the next year, All Time Hits and How Are Things in Glocca Morra?, featuring Stuart Foster's voice. In 1948 he featured a smaller band, and a glamourized psuedo-documentary, The Fabulous Dorseys, and released the album Clambake Seven which also got in the Top Ten. Another film, A Song is Born and another hit single sung by Harry Prime, Until finished the year. He continued to make his mark in 1949 with a flip-sided hit, The Hucklebuck featuring Charlie Shavers, and Marcy Lutes sings, Again; while And the Band Sings, Too reminiscing so many of their masterpieces was high in the album charts.
The beginning of the fifties included another desired album, Tommy Dorsey Plays Cole Porter, and his last movie in 1951, Disc Jockey. That year he moved back to Decca, and by two years later re-combined musical DNA to be part of his and Jimmy's Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra debuting at New York's Statler Hilton. By 1954 they had their own television summer series, Stage Show. After its installment sporadically that fall it ran weekly from 1955. It was on their January 1956 show that the newcomer, and Rock and Roll singer, Elvis Presley made his national televised introduction. One night of November 26, 1956, having a restless bedtime after having an autumn feast, the help from sleeping pills proved deadly as his body failed to rid completely the poisonous combination, and he suffocated dying at only fifty-one years old. Jimmy continued the Orchestra, of course, but he died the next year; however, Warren Covington kept it going. They did provide a million seller in 1958 with Tea For Two Cha-Cha.
The people, besides those mentioned above, that have come out of Tommy, The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing's enterprise is a veritable jazz and pop who's who: Pee Wee Erwin, Buddy Rich, Charlie Shavers, Bunny Berigan, Max Kaminsky and Ziggy Elman.