Saturday, December 09, 2017

Bea Wain & Della Reese - "I Get Along Without You Very Well"

It is a sad, but comforting fact, that “life goes on.”  

    At this point, the passings of Bea Wain and Della Reese might as well be ancient history. Are you sitting around in the dark, with one candle lit, playing the Della Reese discography you downloaded from some clown's blog of a thousand pop albums? Nah.  

      And how many who got a free download of The Eagles' 40th anniversary edition of "Hotel California" listened to it and even remembered that Glenn Frey died? Anyone shedding even two tears while listening to an “Emerson Lake and Palmer” track? 

    Being a Realist, offering ONE song in honor of a fallen star is enough of a tribute. Thus, the choice of song for both Bea Wain and Della Reese, is the ironic “I Get Along Without You Very Well.”  

    Bea’s fame waned before she died at the age of 100. She was one of many Jewish women who became very popular as long as nobody knew she was Jewish. Dinah Shore and Gogi Grant are in that category, among others. Bronx-born Beatrice Wain (April 30, 1917-August 19, 2017) achieved fame singing with Larry Clinton’s big band at the age of 20. Legend has it that Claude Debussy’s estate refused to grant Clinton the right to put music to “Reverie.” They relented because they knew that Clinton’s vocalist had a beautiful voice. Thus, Bea recorded “My Reverie.”  

    The feisty Bea stung Clinton in 1939 for a solo star, and appeared on radio’s “Hit Parade.” Married to Andre Baruch, the couple were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Music,” and had their own radio series, and their own two kids. Domestic life and a radio career beat touring and keeping up a recording career.  

    As for Della Reese (July 6, 1931-November 19, 2017), she spent her early years answering to the name “Delloreese.” That was her unusual first name. Her last: Early. The Detroit singer’s first chart success was “And That Reminds Me” on New York’s Jubilee label in 1957. Her first major hit was “Don’t You Know” in 1959 for RCA. But you knew that.  She followed it with “Not One Minute More,” which was actually about three minutes.  

    Della's singing career cooled, but her acting assignments picked up after she was cast in an episode of “The Mod Squad” in 1968. Later she joined the cast of “Chico and the Man.” Triviasts know that she played Mr. T’s mom on an episode of “The A-Team.” Ultimately, she became a genuine TV star via the long-running series “Touched By an Angel.”  She sang the theme song, “Walk With You,” and in an interesting twist of fate, became an ordained minister. 

    Della Reese the singer is not nearly as well known now as Della Reese the actress. And Bea Wain…is not well known at all. See the header: “I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL.” The song itself has an interesting story. Hoagy Carmichael polished and published it in 1938, but it was based on a poem he'd had lying around for over a dozen years. Titled “Except Sometimes,” it had potential to become a song:  

Except Sometimes
I get along without you very well,
Of course I do.
Except the times a soft rain falls,
And dripping off the trees recalls
How you and I stood deep in mist
One day far in the woods, and kissed.
But now I get along without you — well,
Of course I do.
I really have forgotten you, I boast,
Of course I have.
Except when somone sings a strain
Of song, then you are here again;
Or laughs a way which is the same
As yours; or when I hear your name.
I really have forgotten you — almost.
Of course I have.

    Once Hoagy was inspired to finally re-shape this and add music, he knew he’d better avoid a lawsuit and find the poet who modestly used only “J.B.” as the credit. 

    A lot of poets are shy about their work. Edgar A. Poe’s first book of poems was simply credited to “A Bostonian.”  How many poems were credited to the mysterious J.B., and how could Hoagy find this person?  

    Hoagy contacted top newspaper columnist Walter Winchell (best remembered now as the narrator for the TV show “The Untouchables”). Walter wrote up the problem:

Attention, poets and songwriters!
Hoagy Carmichael, whose songs you love, has a new positive hit — but he cannot have it published. Not until the person who inspired the words communicates with him and agrees to become his collaborator… I hope that person is a listener now.
He lists some of Carmichael’s past hits, quotes part of “Except Sometimes,” and winds up with an exhortation:
If you wrote those lines in a poem, tell your Uncle Walter, who will tell his Uncle Hoagy, and you may become famous.

    After a few months, “J.B.” was found: Jane Brown. Now a 71 year-old widow named Mrs. Jane B. Thompson, she signed for a pay-off. Legend has it that once the contract was signed, Hoagy gave the song to Dick Powell to premiere on Powell’s radio show. The date was January 19th. It was a day too late: Jane Thompson had passed away on January 18th, never hearing her poem put to music.   

    A little research, and we find that a 78 rpm version was released on January 20th, 1939 on RCA’s Bluebird label, with Judy Ellington on vocals backed by Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra. Bea Wain’s version on Victor, with Larry Cinton and his Orchestra, was recorded on January 20th, but arrived in stores a few weeks later in February. In both cases Carmichael was credit on the label as sole author.

    Funny, neither woman offers up a poignant version of the song. Della’s is a pretty hard, tough interpretation. She doesn’t pause for the vulnerability of “except…” And Bea Wain, fighting the fox trot beat of her dance band, can't slow down and add poignance to the “except…” In other words, you can get along without both versions, but...both these ladies were respected in their day, and their voices are timeless.  
Bea Wain - download or listen on line, no passwords, no dodgy pop-ups or malware

No comments: