Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tony Martin Passes On

Legendary singer Tony Martin died on 27 July 2012 at the age of 98.

He was born Alvin Morris on 25 December 1913 in San Francisco, California. His family moved to Oakland, California not long after his birth. He was drawn to music while young and learned to play the saxophone as a teenager. While in high school he joined a local band of which future band leader Woody Herman was also a member. He attended Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga. He left when one of the instructors there informed him that he was flunking everything and should probably remain with music. He left college for Hollywood in an effort to get into films. It was then that he took the name "Tony Martin."

Tony Martin made his film debut as a singer in the film Foolish Hearts in 1935. In the Thirties he would go onto appear in such films as Follow the Fleet (1936), Back to Nature (1936), Pigskin Parade (1936), Sing and Be Happy (1937), Life Begins in College (1937), Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), Up the River (1938), Winner Take All (1939), and Muisc in My Heart (1940).  Tony Martin was also the featured vocalist on the legendary radio show The Burns and Allen Show from 1937 to 1938. A running joke was that Gracie Allen (she and George were still portrayed as single, even though they were already married in real life) carried a torch for the handsome Mr. Martin. It was also in the late Thirties that Tony Martin's recording career began. Signed to Decca Records, he had his first hit in 1938 with "The Moon Of Manakoora," which went to #15 on the Billboard singles chart. His second single, "I Hadn't Anyone Till You," was also released in 1938 and would prove to be one of his biggest hits, going to #4 on the Billboard singles chart. He would have a string of hit records in the late Thirties that included "You Couldn't Be Cuter," "South of the Border," "It's a Blue World," and "Fools Rush In."

While he would only make a few films in the Forties, arguably Tony Martin's most memorable film appearance came about in that decade . It was in 1941 he played one of the male leads in Ziegfeld Girl and sang "You Stepped out of a Dream" and "Caribbean Love Song." In the Forties he went onto appear in such films as The Big Store (1941), Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), and Casbah (1948).  He continued to have hit songs in the early part of the decade, including "Tonight We Love" and "To Each His Own." Mr. Martin's career would be interrupted by World War II. He served for a brief time in the United States Navy, but left after unfounded rumours persisted that he had tried to buy a commission. He then joined the United States Army where he served in the Air Corps. Sadly, the rumours persisted even after the war, so that even though he had served honourably in the Pacific Theatre, nearly every major label refused to sign him following the war. In the end he would sign with the then smaller label Mercury Records. Mr. Martin would have several hits, first with Mercury  and then with RCA Victor, in the late Forties, including "It's Magic," If You Stub Your Toe On the Moon," "There's No Tomorrow," "I Said My Pajamas (and Put on My Pray'rs)," "La Vie en rose,"  and"A Penny a Kiss."

The Fifties would see Tony Martin at the height of his success. From 1954 to 1956 he had his own television series, The Tony Martin Show. He also guest starred on The Jack Benny Programme, Shower of Stars, and The George Burns Show. His film career was also at its height, as he appeared in several films throughout the decade. Among them were Two Tickets to Broadway (1951), Here Come the Girls (1953), Easy to Love (1953), Deep in My Heart (1954), Hit the Deck (1955), and Let's Be Happy (1957). Mr. Martin also had several hit songs throughout the decade, including "I Get Ideas," "Vanity," "Domino." Kiss of Fire," "April In Portugal," Stranger In Paradise," "Here," and Walk Hand In Hand."

By the Sixties the Hollywood musical was in decline and rock music came to dominate the music charts, so that Tony Martin's career went into decline. During the decade he made two guest appearances on television, on The Donna Reed Show and Death Valley Days. He continued to record, but he would have only one more hit. "Theme from the Sandpebbles (And We Were Lovers)" failed to make the Billboard Hot 100, but went to #22 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1967. He would make one final appearance on film in a cameo in Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982). Mr. Martin would continue to make personal appearances for decades. He had married legendary dancer and actress Cyd Charisse in 1948 and the two would remain married until her death sixty years later. The two toured together for years with a cabaret act featuring each of them.

While Tony Martin may not be as famous as earlier crooner Bing Crosby or later crooner Frank Sinatra, he was as great a vocalist as either of them. He had a incredibly rich baritone capable of emotional subtleties of which many modern day performers are wholly incapable. One need only look at the "You Stepped Out of a Dream" sequence from Ziegfeld Girl. Even with such incredible beauties as Hedy Lamarr and Lana Turner on the screen, it is Tony Martin's voice that dominates the scene. While many others would record "To Each His Own," it is Tony Martin's version that is the quintessential one, largely because of his powerful voice.

It was not simply Tony Martin's voice that set him apart from many singers. While many crooners, particularly Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, developed a more casual style, Tony Martin was the epitome of fashion. It was rare indeed that he did not appear in black tie. In fact, he had such a sense of style that in the early Fifties a tuxedo was even named for him. While his fashion sense was definitely formal, his style in live performances was not. Tony Martin was known not only for singing in his personal appearances, but for his stories and remembrances of those who wrote the songs he performed, fellow performers, and so on. As a performer on stage he was very personable.

Indeed, as great as Tony Martin's voice was and as chic as his sense of style was, it was perhaps his sincerity that made him a success. He could take any song and sing it as if he meant it. Few could match Mr. Martin for the emotion he put into his singing. While others had recorded Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" before him and others would do so after him, it is arguably his version that stands out the most. The simple fact was that Tony Martin could take any song and make it entirely his own, singing it as if it was the story of his life. Few singers, even ones with voices as great as that of Tony Martin, possessed that gift. That Tony Martin did makes it a certainty that people will be listening to his songs for decades to come. 

1 comment:

Laura said...

A lovely tribute, indeed! Great point about his singing in ZIEGFELD GIRL. :)

Best wishes,