Harry James was one of the most outstanding instrumentalists of the swing era, employing a bravura playing style that made his trumpet work instantly identifiable. He was also one of the most popular bandleaders of the first half of the 1940s, and he continued to lead his band until just before his death, 40 years later. James was the child of circus performers. His father, Everette Robert James, was the bandleader and trumpet player in the orchestra for the Mighty Haag Circus, and his mother, Maybelle Stewart Clark James, was an aerialist. Growing up in the circus, James became a performer himself as early as the age of four, when he began working as a contortionist. He soon turned to music, however, first playing the snare drum in the band from about the age of six and taking trumpet lessons from his father. At 12, he took over leadership of the second band in the Christy Brothers Circus, for which his family was then working. He attended grade school in Beaumont, Texas, where the circus spent the winter, and when he was 14 he won a state music contest as a trumpeter.
That inspired him to turn professional and begin playing in local bands. James' first job with a national band came in 1935 when he was hired by Ben Pollack. In May 1935, he married singer Louise
Tobin, with whom he had two children and from whom he was divorced in June 1943. He made his first recordings as a member of the Pollack band in September 1936. Not long after, he was tapped by Benny Goodman, then leading one of the country's most popular bands, and he began working for Goodman by the end of 1936. He rapidly gained notice in the Goodman band, and by December 1937 he had begun to make recordings under his own name for Brunswick Records (later absorbed by Columbia Records).
In early 1939, he left Goodman and launched his own orchestra, premiering it in Philadelphia in February. That spring, he heard the then-unknown Frank Sinatra on a radio broadcast and hired him. The band struggled, however, and when the more successful bandleader Tommy Dorsey made Sinatra an offer at the end of 1939, James did not stand in his way. Around the same time, he was dropped by Columbia and switched to the tiny Varsity Records label. After two years of difficulties in maintaining his band, James changed musical direction in early 1941. He added strings and turned to a sweeter, more melodic style, meanwhile re-signing to Columbia Records. The results were not long in coming. In April 1941, he first reached the Top Ten with the self-written instrumental "Music Makers." (His band was sometimes billed as Harry James and His Music Makers.) A second Top Ten hit, "Lament to Love," featuring Dick Haymes on vocals, followed in August, and late in the year James reached the Top Five with an instrumental treatment of the 1913 song "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want to Do It)." This was the record that established him as a star. But with its sweet style and what was frequently described as James' "schmaltzy" trumpet playing, it was also, according to jazz critic Dan Morgenstern (as quoted in the 1999 biography Trumpet Blues: The Life of Harry James by Peter J. Levinson), "the record that the jazz critics never forgave Harry for recording."
James was second only to Glenn Miller as the most successful recording artist of 1942. During the year, seven of his recordings peaked in the Top Ten: the Top Five "I Don't Want to Walk Without You," with vocals by Helen Forrest; the number one instrumental "Sleepy Lagoon"; the Top Five "One Dozen Roses," with vocals by Jimmy Saunders; the Top Five instrumental "Strictly Instrumental"; "He's My Guy"; the Top Five "Mister Five by Five"; and "Manhattan Serenade," the last three with vocals by Helen Forrest. In September, when Miller went into the armed forces and gave up his radio show, Chesterfield Time, he handed it over to James, a symbolic transference of the title of top bandleader in the country. (James was ineligible for military service due to a back injury.) Meanwhile, wartime travel restrictions and the recording ban called by the musicians union, which took effect in August 1942, had limited James' touring and recording activities, but another avenue had opened up. He began appearing in movies, starting with Syncopation in May 1942 and continuing with Private Buckaroo in June and Springtime in the Rockies in November. His next hit, "I Had the Craziest Dream," with vocals by Helen Forrest, was featured in Springtime in the Rockies; it hit number one in February 1943. The movie is also memorable for having starred Betty Grable, whom James married in July 1943; they had two children and divorced in October 1965.
"I Had the Craziest Dream" was succeeded at number one in March 1943 by another James record with a Helen Forrest vocal, "I've Heard That Song Before." "Velvet Moon," an instrumental, followed and did almost as well, but with that Columbia's stockpile of James recordings made just before the start of the recording ban was almost exhausted. The label went into its vaults and began reissuing older James recordings. Frank Sinatra had recently emerged as a solo star, and in the spring of 1943, Columbia reissued "All or Nothing at All," a song he had recorded as James' vocalist in 1939; the song reached the Top Five. Next, Columbia released "I Heard You Cried Last Night," a year-old recording with a Helen Forrest vocal; it too reached the Top Five. Once again, James ranked as the second most successful recording artist of the year, just behind Bing Crosby.
Meanwhile, James was based in New York, doing his three-times-a-week radio show and appearing at major venues such as the Paramount Theatre and on the Astor Hotel Roof. He also appeared in the June 1943 film release Best Foot Forward. Decca Records settled with the musicians' union in 1943, which gave its recording stars an advantage, but while Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and Jimmy Dorsey (all on Decca) were the top recording artists of 1944, James came in fourth without ever stepping into a recording studio. His instrumental "Cherry," recorded in 1942, became a Top Five hit early in the year; "I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You)," recorded in 1941 with Dick Haymes on vocals, hit number one in June; and he had eight other chart records during the year. He also continued with his radio show through March and had two films, Two Girls and a Sailor and Bathing Beauty, in release in June. The two remaining major labels, Columbia and RCA Victor, came to terms with the musicians' union in November 1944, freeing James to return to the recording studio. This resulted in seven Top Ten hits in 1945: the number one "I'm Beginning to See the Light"; "I Don't Care Who Knows It"; "If I Loved You"; "11:60 P.M."; the Top Five "I'll Buy That Dream"; "It's Been a Long, Long Time"; and "Waitin' for the Train to Come In." "If I Loved You" had vocals by Buddy DiVito; all the rest had vocals by Kitty Kallen. That was enough to make him the third most successful recording artist of 1945, behind only Bing Crosby and Sammy Kaye.
Meanwhile, he and his band became regulars on the Danny Kaye Show radio series in January 1945, and he hosted its summer replacement program from June to September. James scored two Top Ten hits in early 1946 -- the Top Five "I Can't Begin to Tell You," which featured a pseudonymous vocal by his wife Betty Grable, and "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," with a vocal by Buddy DiVito -- but then his recording success began to decline, though he managed one more Top Ten hit, "This Is Always," with Buddy DiVito on vocals, in the fall. Having appeared in a number of films, he formally signed a movie contract with 20th Century Fox, resulting in bigger parts in Do You Love Me?, released in May, and If I'm Lucky, out in September. He also took to the road for the first time since the end of the war.
The declining popularity of the big bands led many to break up in December 1946, James' orchestra among them. But in January 1947, his All Time Favorites collection was at the top of the album charts, indicating he was still broadly popular, and within months he had reorganized his band, reducing the number of strings (and soon eliminating them entirely), and taking a more jazz-oriented approach. He scored only one Top Ten hit in 1947, "Heartaches," with vocals by Marion Morgan. And he appeared in the film Carnegie Hall in May. James appeared in the film A Miracle Can Happen (aka On Our Merry Way) in February 1948, the same month he became a regular on the radio show Call for Music, which ran until June. He was not much visible in 1949, but in February 1950, his trumpet playing was heard in the film Young Man with a Horn, though the man fingering the trumpet onscreen was Kirk Douglas.
The Young Man with a Horn soundtrack, credited to James with Doris Day, hit number one in May 1950. Repeating that pairing, Columbia teamed James with Day for "Would I Love You (Love You, Love You)," which hit the charts in March 1951 and reached the Top Ten. Similar success was achieved with "Castle Rock," which paired James with Frank Sinatra and reached the charts in September. Meanwhile,James had his own TV series, The Harry James Show, which ran on a Los Angeles station for the first six months of 1951. From this point on, James maintained his band as a touring unit, though he was less frequently glimpsed in the media. He played himself in the film biography The Benny Goodman Story in 1955, the same year that, having moved to Capitol Records, he released Harry James in Hi-Fi, an album of re-recordings of his hits that reached the Top Ten in November. (The 1999 compilation Trumpet Blues: The Best of Harry James combines tracks from this album and its follow-up, More Harry James in Hi-Fi.)
By now, he was deliberately trying to make his band sound like Count Basie's. He was back on screen in November 1956 in the film The Opposite Sex. He made his first major tour of Europe in October 1957, and in ensuing years he alternated national and international tours with lengthy engagements at Las Vegas hotels. There were two more film appearances, The Big Beat (June 1958) and The Ladies Man (July 1961). James performed regularly through the early '80s. He was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1983, but continued to play, making his last appearance only nine days before his death at 67. Led by trumpeter Art Depew, his band continued to perform. No one questioned James' talent as a jazz trumpeter, though after his commercial ascendance in 1941 many jazz critics dismissed him. After his period of greatest success, he turned back to a more jazz-oriented style, which failed to change the overall impression of him, if only because he was no longer as much in the public eye. Nevertheless, his swing hits remain among the most popular music of the era. In addition to the Columbia recordings from his heyday, there are numerous other titles in his discography, notably many airchecks, though his recordings of the '50s are also worth seeking out.
Biography by William Ruhlmann - Source: allmusic
Helen Forrest (April 12, 1917 – July 11, 1999) was an American singer.
She served as the "girl singer" for three of the most popular big bands of the Swing Era (Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James), thereby earning a reputation as "the voice of the name bands."
Helen was born Helen Fogel in Atlantic City, New Jersey on April 12, 1917. Her parents, Louis and Rebecca Fogel, were Russian-born Jews.
While she was still an infant, Helen's father died from influenza. Helen was raised by her mother, who often blamed her husband's death on the birth of Helen. She believed that God had taken her husband because she had wished so much for a baby girl. Helen had three older brothers: Harry, Ed, and Sam. The family relocated to Brooklyn when Helen was in her early teenage years. Her mother married a house painter, a man that Helen disliked. Soon, Helen's mother and stepfather turned the family's home into a brothel. At age 14, Helen was nearly raped by her stepfather. Helen defended herself with a kitchen knife, injuring him. Following this, she was permitted by her mother to live with her piano teacher, Honey Silverman, and her family. While learning piano, Honey noticed Helen's singing ability and encouraged her to focus on singing instead. Anxious to find a career in singing, Helen dropped out of high school to pursue her dream.
Helen returned to Atlantic City and began singing with her brother Ed's band. She soon returned to New York City, where she visited song publishers and performed an audition for a 15-minute slot for a local radio show. Around this time, Helen was encouraged to change her name from "Fogel" to "Forrest" because her name sounded "too Jewish." In 1934, 17-year old Helen began singing for WNEW in New York. She also performed for WCBS where she was known as “Bonnie Blue” and “The Blue Lady of Song.” Eventually she found a singing job at the Madrillon Club, in Washington, D.C., where she performed for approximately two years.
After seeing Forrest at the Madrillon, bandleader Artie Shaw asked her to go on tour with him; Shaw was looking for new talent when vocalist Billie Holiday decided to leave the band. Helen was hired in 1938. For a time she and Holiday were both working with Shaw's band. In some venues, African-American performers were required to remain off stage until they performed. When Forrest became aware of this, she stated that like Holiday, she would also not take the stage until she was to sing. She recorded 38 singles with Shaw's band. Two of her biggest hits with Shaw were the songs "They Say" and "All the Things You Are." During her time with Shaw, Helen Forrest became a national favorite. In November 1939, Shaw broke up his band.
Helen joined Benny Goodman in December of 1939, with whom she recorded a number of celebrated songs, including the hit song "The Man I Love." Helen recorded 55 studio recordings with Goodman. She told the Pop Chronicles radio series: "Benny would look right above your eyebrows, in the middle, right on top of the brow. He was a very strange man." Forrest also stated, "The band I joined was sensational, but few special arrangements were written for me. I sang choruses, and made myself fit to the music. Benny used to drive me crazy by "noodling" behind me on clarinet while I sang." Goodman was also reported to have been a perfectionist and a very difficult man to work with. In August 1941, Forrest quit the orchestra "to avoid having a nervous breakdown". After leaving Goodman, Forrest briefly recorded with Nat King Cole and Lionel Hampton.
In 1941, she approached Harry James, offering to work for him under one condition: that she be permitted to sing more than one chorus. Although James was looking for a more jazz-oriented singer, he allowed Forrest to audition. The band voted her in and she was hired. Several decades later, Forrest explained in an interview, "Harry James was wonderful. When I joined him, I said, 'There's only one condition: I don't care how much you pay me, I don't care about arrangements. The one thing I want is to start a chorus and finish it. I want to do verses, so don't put me up for a chorus in the middle of an instrumental.' He said, 'You got it,' and that was it." She also told writer George T. Simon, "I'll always remain grateful to Artie and Benny. But they had been featuring me more like they did a member of the band, almost like another instrumental soloist. Harry, though, gave me just the right sort of arrangement and setting that fit a singer. It wasn't just a matter of my getting up, singing a chorus, and sitting down again." In his book, The Big Bands, Simon explained that Harry James constructed "the arrangements around his horn and Helen's voice, establishing warmer moods by slowing down the tempo so that two, instead of the usual three or more choruses, would fill a record …many an arrangement would build to a closing climax during Helen's vocal, so that she would emerge as its star." It was with the Harry James Orchestra that Helen recorded what are arguably her most popular numbers, including "I Had the Craziest Dream" in 1942, and 1941's "I Don't Want to Walk Without You."
In 1942 and 1943, Helen Forrest was voted the best female vocalist in the United States in the Down Beat poll.
Forrest left Harry James in late 1943 in pursuit of a solo career. She signed a recording contract with Decca and co-starred with Dick Haymes on a CBS radio show from 1944 to 1947. Helen's first Decca disc, "Time Waits For No One", reached second place on the Hit Parade, and the radio show achieved top ratings. Haymes was also contracted to Decca, and from 1944 to 1946 the pair recorded 18 duets, 10 of them reaching the Top Ten. Particularly successful were their versions of "Long Ago and Far Away", "It Had To Be You", "Together", "I'll Buy That Dream", "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" and "Oh, What It Seemed To Be". In 1944, she made an appearance in the Esther Williams movie Bathing Beauty with Harry James and his orchestra. She also appeared in the film Two Girls and a Sailor. During the last years of the 1940s, Helen headlined at theatres and clubs.
In 1955, Helen's mother died. In that same year, Helen joined Harry James again in the studio to record a new swing album called, Harry James in Hi-Fi, which became a bestseller. By the end of the 1950s, Helen's solo career waned as rock'n'roll became increasingly popular. Helen's manager, Joe Graydon, said, "She was at an `in-between' stage in her career. Not young enough to be current. Not old enough to be nostalgia."
After a dip in recording in the 1950s, including a stint with the startup Bell Records, Helen sang with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra, led by Sam Donahue, in the early 1960s. Helen continued to make occasional records and perform in concerts and was performing at Lake Tahoe with Frank Sinatra Jr. in 1963 when he was kidnapped.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Forrest performed in supper clubs on "big band nostalgia" tours, including appearances with Harry James and Dick Haymes. In 1977, Helen participated in a television reunion of herself, James, and Haymes on the Merv Griffin Show. This led to a touring production called The Fabulous 40s (1978), followed in 1979 with a similar revue entitled The Big Broadcast of 1944. In 1980, six months following Haymes' death, Helen suffered a stroke, but recovered to resume performing and recording. Her autobiography, Now and Forever, was published in 1982 and is dedicated to her only son. In 1983, Helen released her final album, also titled Now and Forever. She also starred with Vivian Blaine and Margaret Whiting in a stage revue titled, A Tribute to Dick Haymes.
Despite an unhappy childhood, frequent illness, and personal disappointments, Forrest remained dedicated to her musical profession and continued singing until the early 1990s when rheumatoid arthritis began to affect her vocal chords and forced her into retirement. Forrest also suffered scarlet fever as a youngster, which left her with a hearing loss. The loss of her hearing worsened as she became older and she was able to perform her old standards because she remembered where the notes for them were.
Helen Forrest died on July 11, 1999 from congestive heart failure at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. She was 82.
Her final resting place is in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Hollywood Hills, in Los Angeles.
During her life, Helen married and divorced three times. In 1960, Helen (with her third husband, Charles Feinman) gave birth to her only son, Michael Forrest Feinman. Today, Michael resides in southern California.
In the early 1940s, Forrest had a love affair with bandleader Harry James while she was part of his band. The relationship ended shortly before James met the woman he would later marry, actress Betty Grable. Forrest wrote, "I've had three marriages and I never married Harry, but he was the love of my life. Let's face it, I still carry a torch for the so-and-so."
Helen Forrest on her career:
"I live for today, but it is nice sometimes to look back to yesterday. We did not know that we were living through an era - the Big Band Era - that would last only 10 years or so and be remembered and revered for ever…it's hard to believe, but the best times were packed into a five-year period from the late 1930s through the early 1940s when I sang with the bands of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. The most dramatic moments of my life were crammed into a couple of years from the fall of 1941 to the end of 1943. They seem to symbolize my life…that was when the music of the dance bands was the most popular music in the country, and I was the most popular female band singer in the country and Harry had the most popular band in the country. It didn't last long, but it sure was something while it lasted. Everyone should have something like it at least once in their lives. I'm grateful I did." - Helen Forrest (circa 1982)
At the peak of her career, Helen Forrest was the most popular female singer in the United States. Because of her work with the bands of Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James, she is known as "the voice of the name bands" and is regarded by some as the best female vocalist of the swing era. In addition, AllMusic describes Forrest as "a performer that some might not consider a jazz vocalist, but one with exceptional ability to project lyrics and also an excellent interpreter." Also, IMDb describes Forrest: "though Helen was not, perhaps, a jazz singer in the truest sense, she brought to her songs a wistful 'girl-next-door' quality" through her "femininity and warmth of her voice and the clear, emotional phrasing of her lyrics." In his book The Big Bands, writer George Simon wrote, "Helen was a wonderfully warm and natural singer."
Over the course of her career, Helen Forrest recorded more than 500 songs. In 2001, she was posthumously inducted into the now-defunct Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. According to many of her fans, Forrest is reported to have been a warm, amiable woman who was always willing to chat with her fans and sign autographs. Despite Helen Forrest's legacy, her grave is still marked with a temporary grave marker (as of 2010). Source: last.fm
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