A few months ago, it was Kitty Kallen. Now we say Kaddish for another Jewish woman who had her name changed so she seemed she was born in Tennessee. Philadelphia’s Myrtle Audrew Arinsberg (September 20, 1924 – March 10, 2016) became, thanks to her record label, “GOGI GRANT.” If that first name seems impossibly stupid, well, it was the era of America’s Binnie Barnes and England’s Googie Withers.
Grant’s strong, mystical “The Wayward Wind” blew Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ off the #1 spot exactly 60 years ago. It was an unlikely achievement for a 30-something, who had begun her recording career only a year earlier. On the small Era record label she'd had the modestly charting “Suddenly There’s a Valley.”
Back then, anything could happen…if you had the right name. An Italian became a cowboy song hero as “Frankie Laine.” And so Gogi, and Kitty Kalen (and Dinah Shore) passed as wholesome middle-Americans, not Jews to be jeered or stolen from by every Hans and Christer. I once had a discussion about this phenomenon with Gene Simmons, and how sad it was that he couldn't have been the hip, hot, rocking leader of KISS if he remained Gene Klein. Wouldn't it be nice if stereotypes could be smashed? "Yeah, I know what you're saying," came the reply. But he added he was happy being Gene Simmons. Just as Bob Zimmerman was more comfortable as Bob Dylan.
While racism implies that you’ll be shut out if you don’t assimilate, many nice people simply expect certain stereotypes in their lives. They want their Italian restaurant run by Italians. They want a Jewish accountant. A yoga instructor from India. Speaking of India, we may know that Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji, but we appreciate him taking the effort to toss his 'eathen real name AND, allow him to play Gandhi because we know what his real name was.
“The Wayward Wind” was the perfect storm of singer and song. Her follow up, available below, was the predictable “When The Tide is High.” Chart failure didn't bother Gogi much. Her fame was strong enough to take her to a Hollywood studio where she dubbed Ann Blyth for the musical biopic “The Helen Morgan Story.” The soundtrack was a best-seller. The following year, 1958, she starred in “The Big Beat,” one of those jukebox movies full of top singers and musicians of the day.
Gogi issued three RCA albums in 1958-59, “Welcome to My Heart,” “Torch Time,” and “Granted it’s Gogi,” but there was a lot of competition in singing “The American Songbook.” Her versions of songs such as “That’s My Desire” were very competent but not all that exciting. Fans seemed to long for tangy country-lilted things like "The Wayward Wind." Another aspect of stereotype is expecting a star to stay in the style that made 'em famous.
Willing to try roots music again, Gogi recorded a 1960 album for Liberty called “If You Want to Get to Heaven.” It was loaded with Gospel shouters, which seemed to reinforce the idea that she was Christian. Her next and last stop was CRC-Charter in 1964: “City Girl in the Country.”
40 years later, 80 years old, Gogi Grant thrilled nostalgists by singing “The Wayward Wind” on a PBS nostalgia special.
Gogi did herself proud that night. She was one of the highlights. Reports say that she was still turning up for cameo stage appearances into her late 80's. And, no, Gogi did not end up cremated, and tossed into "The Wayward Wind." She can be found at Hillside Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles that is also the final rest for Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Leonard Nimoy, David Janssen, Michael Landon, Lorne Greene, Milton Berle, Al Jolson, Allan Sherman, Dinah Shore and Moe of The Three Stooges.
GOGI GRANT When the Tide is High