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KATE SMITH
THE SONGBIRD OF THE SOUTH
25 original mono recordings 1927-1947

Compiled by Peter Dempsey and Ray Crick
Transfers by Peter Dempsey. Restoration by Simon Haram
LIVING ERA CD AJA 5465 [77.31]

 

Crotchet


  1. WHEN THE MOON COMES OVER THE MOUTAIN (1931)
  2. ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU (1927)
  3. MAYBE, WHO KNOWS? (1929)
  4. MOANINí LOW (1929)
  5. WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (1929)
  6. I DONíT MIND WALKING IN THE RAIN (1930)
  7. I DONíT KNOW WHY Ė I JUST DO (1931)
  8. I GOT RHYTHM (1930)
  9. TOO LATE (1931)
  10. RIVER, STAY ĎWAY FROM MY DOOR (1931)
  11. MOON SONG (1933)
  12. THE CONTINENTAL (1934)
  13. STAY AS SWEET AS YOU ARE (1934)
  14. BEI MIR BIST DU SCHOEN (1937)
  15. WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR (1940)
  16. IMAGINATION (1940)
  17. CANíT GET INDIANA OFF MY MIND (1940)
  18. ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL (1940)
  19. THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (1940)
  20. TIME WAS (1941)
  21. ROSE OíDAY (1941)
  22. THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER (1941)
  23. DONíT FENCE ME IN (1944)
  24. FEUDINí ANí FIGHTINí (1947)
  25. GOD BLESS AMERICA (1939)

 

Her name was Kate Smith and she was born in 1907 Kathryn Elizabeth. From an early age she showed a liking for dancing and singing and, gifted with a strong soprano voice, sang in Church choirs and took part in local theatres and night spots. She was big and beautiful and steadily worked her way up until she was accepted on the vaudeville circuit in New York. It hadnít been easy, but eventually she succeeded. In 1926 came her first break on Broadway in a show called "Honeymoon Lane" with Kate making her mark as "Tiny Little", (not very appropriate for this large lady). She was lucky to find a reliable promoter who eventually became her partner in Columbia Records and his name was Ted Collins who remained with her until his death. She soon became one of the most listened to singers on American Radio particularly during the depression and the years following Americaís entry into World War 2. Her cheerful, morale-inspiring voice could often be heard over the airways with her catch phrase "Hello everybody, this is Kate Smith speaking!" and always "Thanks for listínin!" Phrases that were to become regular sayings and by all accounts still are, just like her hit song "Good bless America", a real American anthem. She soon became called "The Song bird of the South" and an American institution. She appeared in many Broadway shows with stars of her day and must have been a very versatile lady. She also presented the enormously popular "Kate Smith Hourí", together with a midday news and commentary ("Kate Smith Speaks"). There really seems no end to Kate Smithsí accomplishments.

I was very anxious to hear her sing as I have no great recollection of hearing her name in 1927 when she first recorded a song in New York for Columbia with the Charleston Chasers, "One Sweet Letter From You." The accompanists play a long introduction before Kate sings and my first impression was good. Even then she had a clear, strong voice and every word can be heard. She is singing about the man she loved, and wondering where he was and what he was doing. Just an ordinary song but sang with vigour. The Charleston Chasers are excellent too.

It was July 1929 before Kate recorded "Maybe, Who Knows" with Ben Selvin and the Harmonians. I like this song though I did think it was rather wordy for its own good, but Kate sings every word clearly and tunefully in that strong soprano voice. In August of that year she also recorded two more songs with Ben Selvin and the Harmonians. First is "Moaniní Low", not a song I liked and as the recording develops Kateís voice switches to a shriller note and in doing so the words were not clear. The next song is by Irving Berlin. I expected a good one and wasnít disappointed as itís "Waiting At The End Of The Road" and Kate sings it well, although again she does so in that same shrill quality that up to now dominates her songs and which I cannot quite warm to. In spite of this itís strong and amazingly clear.

Kate recorded "I Donít Mind Walking In The Rain" in July 1930, again with Ben Selvin and the Harmonians. This is a simple, pleasant little number, which in fact all Kate songs have been up to now but they are numbers that can be listened to without having to spare much thought. You can listen as you go about and perhaps hum along with them. Then in the November she recorded Gershwinís "I Got Rhythm" with Ben Selvin again and this is a different matter. This needs to be sung in a bubbly, energetic way and Kate Smith does all that, and more. Considering she was big and beautiful she could certainly sing as if she was really swaying to the rhythm. Itís a song with great many words but Kate sang them all clearly and I am sure you will like this very much.

It wasnít until August of the following year that Kate recorded again, but she had been busy doing many other things, one of which was her work with CBS radio. However she did record what to me is a lovely song in August 1931, "When The Moon Comes Over The Mountain", one I knew at the time and one that has been played occasionally over the years. I can remember it round about that time because I was a romantic at that age and it brings back memories. Kate sings this with great feeling, and you hear every word. When she pauses the orchestra plays on with the wistful, plaintive theme until Kate resumes. Following this, she recorded, once again with Ben Selvin and his orchestra, "I donít know why Ė I just do". The arrangement is perfect and I like how Kate sings, talks and hums as she goes along. She does it all so well and together with the orchestra makes this a real find. In December came "Too Late" this time with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians who play a long introduction, so long I even wondered if this might be an instrumental only. It reminded me of those days of long ago when it was how the band would play at a ball for a waltz. It is slow and languid, just the right tempo for a waltz, and when Kate comes in she sings in a low, crooning voice matching the slow pace of the music. That same month with Guy Lombardo she also made "River, Stay `Way From My Door". Here again the Orchestra plays a long introduction before Kate starts to sing, and when she does itís in a slightly drawling manner, but I donít dislike it.

In 1932 she had a cameo role in Paramountís `The Big Broadcastí, a revue style musical featuring stars of radio and screen. She was still performing on her radio show, and taking parts in many other shows, but in February 1933 she recorded "Moon Song" with Victor Young and his Orchestra. Kate sings this simple love song as it was meant, though I canít say I was particularly impressed, though itís pleasant enough. It wasnít until the following year in October of 1934 that she recorded the next song, "The Continental" with KS with the Ambassadors Trio and her Swanee Music. I have heard this so many times as Astaire and Rogers sang and danced it in one their films but I have never heard this arrangement before. I had to listen several times before I could decide if I liked it and at first I was losing track of what they were all singing about. I suppose it was because I have always imagined the song as a much slower number. Kate sings it with the backing of the chorusís "dah-dah-dahs" and I began to like it and hum along. I soon realised this was a special arrangement for the record, not meant for dancing to. In the November Kate gives us "Stay As Sweet As You Are", again with the Ambassadors Trio and Her Swanee Music. This is one of my many favourites and Kate sings it straight and slow in her strong voice with every word clear. She even appears by now to have lost that shrillness dominated in her earlier records.

By now Kate, alongside Ted Collins, was presenting the popular "Kate Smith Hour" on radio and a favourite midday news and commentary "Kate Smith Speaks". So it wasnít until December 1937 that we have "Bei Mir Du Schoen" with Jack Miller and his orchestra. Another of my favourites I have heard many times, not so often now itís true, but its not a song I have forgotten. Kate sings it at a good pace but does end up rather shrilly, I thought, although it didnít spoil it.

Kate recorded quite a few songs in 1940, as if to make up for not doing so between 1934 and 1940. It was understandable when you read of all she had managed in her busy schedule. In March 1940 we have "Imagination" with Jack Miller and his orchestra. A tuneful melody with a lovely theme and Kate delivers it well. Itís not a song that belongs to this generation, but its so pleasant it can still be enjoyed, I think. There is also the fine "Canít Get Indiana Off My Mind", a pleasant enough song and then "Along the Santa Fe Trail" with Jack Miller and his orchestra. I thought this recording belonged to the band. I liked the melody and how the music played at just the right pace. Kate appeared to revert back to singing too shrill but as she only comes in for a short while it hardly matters.

When I saw the next recording was "The Last Time I Saw Paris", my mind wandered back over the years to when I first heard it. Then Yvonne Arnaud sang it and it is her version that imprinted on me. Kate sings with feeling and I was delighted to hear this again. Jack Millerís band, ably supporting Kate, strikes a plaintive note. You will like this version, I certainly did. I wasnít impressed with her next recording, however. This is "Time Was" recorded in June 1941 again with Jack Miller.

How I love the next song from October 1941, "Rose OíDay". As the title suggests itís an Irish number and one of Kateís commercial hits. I think she sings this just as it should be with feeling and humour and, as usual, Jack Miller and his orchestra accompanies brilliantly. The same applies to the next recording in the same month. This is none other than "The White Cliffs of Dover". Here again my memory takes me back to those grim days when this wartime morale-booster was being sung here by our own Vera Lynn. However it must not be forgotten that that the American composer who wrote it, Walter Kent, never saw England until the 1980ís. It was a great commercial hit for Kate and she sings it beautifully and enunciates every word clearly with the right amount of pathos.

After the war Kate continued to broadcast on radio, record for Columbia until 1946 and then for MGM. By 1950 she had broadened her horizon into TV with an NBC weekday afternoon variety show called, not surprisingly, "The Kate Smith Hour" which ran uninterrupted until 1954 and led to a prime-time Wednesday evening spot. However before she left Columbia she recorded "Donít Fence Me In" in November 1944 with Jack Miller, Four Chicks and Chuck. Kate sings this with just the right amount of up-tempo and keeps her voice on a level that is just about right. I liked how The Four Chicks and Chuck came in towards the end of the song also. Itís a naturally catchy number and Kate does it well. It wasnít until 1947 she recorded "Feudiní aní Fightiní". I didnít much care for this, although Kate sings with her usual vigour.

I have left one recording to the last. It was in 1939 that she aired the "alternative national anthem" "God Bless America", a song written by Irving Berlin who regarded it as his most important composition. Itís interesting to note that Berlin wrote this for his 1918 musical "Yip,Yip,Yaphank" but it was really unknown until he resurrected it for Kate who predicted in 1938 that it would be sung after all of us are gone. She was always ready to offer her services during the war and raised a lot of money for the GIs and listening to this track you can hear why.

This is an enjoyable CD and I do recommend it to those who remember Kate Smith, the "American Song Bird" who with her tremendous vitality brought so much pleasure to many people. People who donít know her might find her style a little wearing. I confess I did. She sang and entertained people from an early age until at the aged of 79 she died in North Carolina 1986.

So another fine release for Living Era who have again transferred from 78s accurately and with great style.

Joan Duggan

see also entry in MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music

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