WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN DECEMBER 1949
 
 

Mule Train becomes the second straight #1 hit for Frankie Laine who staked his claim as the leader of a new generation of singers who were moving away from the placid controlled crooning of Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra who had ruled the nation’s interests for so long.

The record also highlighted the increasingly elaborate production of Mitch Miller who was foremost in the auteur movement in record making, where a single creative visionary controlled more of the final sound than ever before. On Mule Train this included sound effects to replicate the whip-cracking the song depicted being done on the trail.

Laine, the son of Italian immigrants, had his love of music shaped largely by black artists starting with blues queen Bessie Smith in the 1920’s and in an era where Caucasians treating African-Americans as peers and equals was still decidedly rare Laine was open about his friendships with black artists and his breakthrough record That’s My Desire hit the Race Charts in 1947 as listeners assumed he was black himself.

By 1949 he was the top singer in America with this record replacing his own That Lucky Old Sun in the top spot on the charts, one of the rare times when the same artist had two different songs at #1 in consecutive weeks. Though Laine would remain popular well into the 1950’s this period marked his peak and as within a few years the continued ascent of rock ‘n’ roll relegated Laine to an afterthought, though his own wildly dramatic style was more closely related to rock than many would’ve liked to admit.
 


 
 
 
 

Huddie Ledbetter a/k/a Lead Belly, one of the most acclaimed folk/country blues artists of the 20th Century, dies in New York on December 6th at the age of 61. His star-crossed career was more notable at the time for his multiple prison sentences, including those for murder and attempted murder, many of which he was given pardons or granted parole for due largely to his musical abilities.

His recordings, while considered classics in the years since, were not as commercially successful at the time and as such it was still as much his colorful life story, including a write up in Life magazine detailing how his prison terms led to his popularity as a live performer when he was granted furloughs to sing.

But after his death the depth of his output became all the more evident as songs he wrote, like “Bourgeois Blues” and “Cotton Fields”, or those which effectively re-wrote such as “Goodnight Irene”, as well as traditional songs he eternally defined as with “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and “Midnight Special”, became seen as enduring classics and were adapted by artists from all different styles through the years.
 
 
 
 
 
Another early demise, one even more shocking due to his age, was Albert Ammons, one of the foremost boogie-woogie pianist of the 20th century, who passed away at the age of 42 on December 2nd.

A decade earlier it was Ammons, along with boyhood friend Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson who launched the national boogie woogie craze following their appearance at John Hammond’s famed From Spiritutals To Swing concert in New York and their subsequent extended stay at the Café Society in New York City.

Along the way Ammons scored huge sellers with “Swanee River Boogie” in 1936 and “Boogie Woogie Stomp” in 1938 and appeared as himself in the film Boogie Woogie Dream in 1944 at the tail end of the style’s commercial peak.

As his health worsened Ammons made one of his final appearances playing at fellow piano player Harry Truman’s Presidential inauguration in January 1949. Before Ammons death he was able to cut sessions with his son, Gene Ammons, who was already a well-known saxophone player on his way to becoming one of the primary soul-jazz musicians of the 1960’s.

 
 
 
 
 

On The Town a musical starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra hits screens on December 8th. The breezy plot about three sailors on shore leave in New York, one of whom falls for a picture of a girl and then races to find her before they ship out, was typical of the era: wholesome with just a hint of horniness.

The film launched the song New York, New York helping to win the score an Academy Award. It was third musical in which Kelly and Sinatra teamed up and is considered the the peak of Sinatra’s career in musicals before his rapid fall from grace made him almost unhireable in motion pictures for a few years before staging a remarkable comeback with dramatic parts in 1953.

On The Town ranked 19th all-time for Greatest Musicals by The American Film Institute and makes for a perfect look back at how music was presented to reflect mainstream American ideals before rock ‘n’ roll’s full ascent turned that on its head.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Birdland opens in New York City December 15th on Broadway near 52nd Street and soon becomes the most famous jazz club in the world.

Though its behind the scenes history is less than noble, as the club was started and run by brothers Irving and Morris Levy who had strong ties to organized crime, and the name itself was coined to take advantage of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker’s popularity, not as an altruistic gesture but rather a commercial one, the club thrived for fifteen years in spite of these unsavory aspects because the musicians who played there, as well as the audiences who flocked to watch them, treated it with such reverence.

Parker in fact was one of the many who played on opening night and from the start it attracted virtually every other major jazz artist to its stage. The name itself became synonymous with jazz fans even with those who never stepped foot in its doors thanks to the many live records cut there and finally when pianist George Shearing wrote the instrumental standard Lullaby At Birdland which Sarah Vaughan made into a vocal hit in 1954, its reputation was assured.

While the club itself was first rate and attracted high class clientele including a stream of celebrities, the Levy brothers were never anything but refined hoodlums and it probably came as no surprise when Irving Levy was stabbed to death in the packed club one night in 1959 for unknown criminal transgressions. His brother Morris, who had been filching rock ‘n’ roll copyrights for a number of years and collecting record labels as payoffs from rock producers gambling debts, continued running Birdland into the mid-1960’s before shutting it down when claiming bankruptcy.

The club itself was then bought by rock artist Lloyd Price who changed the name to The Turntable and changed the musical focus as well, ending the fifteen year run it enjoyed as The Jazz Corner Of The World. Fittingly Morris Levy was convicted of extortion for his many transgressions over the years and was about to start serving a long prison sentence when he died in 1990.

 
 
 
 

Minute Rice makes its debut with a nationwide campaign and a feature article in Reader’s Digest touting the revolutionary product.

The invention itself was by an Afghani named Ataullah Ozai-Durrani who had researched rice at the New York Public Library in 1939 and spent two years perfecting the method of cooking the rice normally and then dehydrating it for future use.

The engineering student brought his creation to General Foods in 1941 and they immediately bought his patent and it was quickly used in C-rations during World War Two where its ease of preparation – re-hydrating it in boiling water for five minutes – made it ideal for use close to the front lines.

Rice hadn’t been quite as popular a kitchen staple prior to this due to having to store it without letting moisture in and the lengthy cooking time it required, so Minute Rice is credited with dramatically increasing its usage. The problem was that dehydrating it also removed most of the nutritional benefits – and much of the taste – that made rice worthwhile to eat. It also cost more and despite what the registered trademark tells you no instant rice ever took as little as one minute to make, even today.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Actor Cary Grant gets married on Christmas Day thereby ending the dreams of many starstruck girls who longed for the romantically charming Loverboy Of The Bougeioise.

His new wife, Betsy Drake, was an actress herself who gave up a promising career to settle down with Hollywood’s leading heartthrob. A founding member of the famed Actor’s Studio she preferred the stage to the screen but after meeting Grant in London in 1947 he got her a contract in Hollywood and she made her film debut opposite him the following year in Every Girl Should Be Married, in what turned out to be a prescient title.

After exchanging vows she largely forsook acting roles, appearing in just seven more feature films after they were married, including one with her husband. She instead turned her attention to writing and wrote the script for Houseboat, which she was to co-star in with her husband, but dropped out after discovering his affair with Sophia Loren, who wound up taking Drake’s role on screen as the script was re-written. Grant and Drake separated that same year, finalizing the divorce in 1963 but remained close until Grant’s death in 1986.

After the divorce Drake earned a Masters in Education from Harvard, wrote a novel and was an advocate for LSD use, having introduced Grant to the drug through successful psychotherapy sessions years earlier. She passed away in 2015 at the age of 92, ten years after making her final on-screen appearance in a Cary Grant documentary.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

On December 29th the first UHF television station in the United States goes on the air in Bridgeport, Connecticut. KC2XAK was designated as the test case to see how feasible Ultra High Frequency would be for widespread use and as such it merely re-transmitted an existing VHF channel out of New York.

This move was deemed necessary as television became more popular because there simply weren’t enough VHF signals available to serve each market. UHF was assigned higher numbers (14-83) and therefore would allow many communities to have their own channels rather than have to make due with the nearest large city’s outlets. UHF’s advantage was that it had a longer range, although that was offset in many cases of it being far more susceptible to environmental interference.

In spite of its promise it took until the mid-1950’s for the technological standards of television sets to be improved enough to ensure higher quality reception of UHF channels but it wasn’t mandated that TV sets even be equipped to handle these stations until the 1960’s. Since the major networks monopolized VHF’s allotment of twelve channels (2-13) the UHF market subsequently became home to independently owned stations which needed to rely on locally produced shows and syndicated re-runs and movies to fill their programming lineup making them far less popular in terms of ratings than the network affiliated VHF channels.

But by the 1980’s with the proliferation of cable television which allowed many local UHF channels to be seen nationwide and the subsequent universal switch-over from analog to digital signals which was more suited for UHF than for VHF, the tide began to turn and now in the twenty first century the majority of over the air channels in America are on UHF.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The last Christmas of the first half of the Twentieth Century is fast approaching and you’re sure want to remember it throughout the second half of the century so why not buy the family a Once In A Lifetime Gift… we’re talking of course about a Revere 16mm Sound Projector!

These projectors are easy to use and allow you to have thrilling movies with “theater tone” sound right in your own home! Anyone who can take snapshots can take and show color movies to be proud of… provided your family can look less awkward and uncomfortable in front of the camera than those found in this ad. Either way though the movies you take will become more precious with time.

A single lightweight unit with a sixteen foot reel can be yours for just $299.50 so visit your Revere dealer to see their exciting selection of products and see for yourself why there’s no better photographic value to be found.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
RECORDS REVIEWED FOR DECEMBER 1949:

LESTER WILLIAMS: I’m So Happy I Could Jump And Shout
IVORY JOE HUNTER: I Quit My Pretty Mama
PAUL WILLIAMS: Cranberries
PAUL WILLIAMS: Juice Bug Boogie
HARRY CRAFTON: Bring That Cadillac Back
HARRY CRAFTON: So Long Baby
BIG JOE TURNER: Fuzzy Wuzzy Honey
FLOYD DIXON: Cow Town
FLOYD DIXON: Forever And Ever
CLARENCE GARLOW: She’s So Fine
CLARENCE GARLOW: Blues As You Like It
THE RAVENS: Get Wise Baby
EARL BOSTIC: Nay! Nay! Go Way
EARL BOSTIC: Sugar Hill Blues
PAUL BASCOMB: Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’
PAUL BASCOMB: What Did Sam Say?
EDDIE CHAMBLEE: Cradle Rock
WYNONIE HARRIS: Sittin’ On It All The Time
WYNONIE HARRIS: Baby, Shame On You
THE SHADOWS: I’ve Been A Fool
THE SHADOWS: Nobody Knows
WILD BILL MOORE: Mean Old World
WILD BILL MOORE: Dynaflow
TINA DIXON: Blow Mr. Be-Bop
JOE MORRIS: Lowdown Baby
JOE MORRIS: Broken Hearted Blues
THE ROBINS: If It’s So Baby
THE ROBINS: If I Didn’t Love You So
TOMMY RIDGLEY: Shrewsbury Blues
TOMMY RIDGLEY: Early Dawn Boogie
JOE HOUSTON: Waycross Mama
JOE HOUSTON: It’s Really Wee Wee Hours
LITTLE WILLIE LITTLEFIELD: The Moon Is Risin’
LITTLE WILLIE LITTLEFIELD: Frightened
TINY BRADSHAW: Gravy Train
PAUL GAYTEN: Cook’s Tour
PAUL GAYTEN: You Shouldn’t
GATEMOUTH BROWN: Didn’t Reach My Goal
GATEMOUTH BROWN: Atomic Energy
GATEMOUTH BROWN: Mercy On Me
IVORY JOE HUNTER: I Almost Lost My Mind
BIG JAY McNEELY: Boogie In Front
BIG JAY McNEELY: Gingercake
BEA JOHNSON (ft. BIG JIM WYNN): Glad You Let Me Go
BEA JOHNSON (ft. BIG JIM WYNN): No Letter Blues
TEDDY BUNN: Jackson’s Nook
ANNIE LAURIE: Baby What’s New
ANNIE LAURIE: Blue And Disgusted
 
 
 
PREVIOUS: NOVEMBER 1949