Monday, February 29, 2016

100 Years Ago Dinah Shore Was Born

On February 24 1994, when Dinah Shore died, my mother told me, "Your singer died." At first I worried that another Beatle or another member of The Who had died. She then confirmed that it was a blonde, female singer. With some concern I asked her if it was Doris Day. She replied that it was another one, "Dinah Shore." To say it spoiled my day would be putting it mildly. Quite simply, Dinah Shore had been part of my life for as long as I could remember. She was one of those personalities who always seemed to be on television, personalities such as Betty White and Bob Barker. And like Betty White and Bob Barker I always liked Dinah Shore. She wasn't just a very good singer, but someone who always seemed so warm and friendly as well. To me Dinah Shore seemed less like a glamorous television star than one's favourite aunt. I am sure I wasn't the only member of Generation X to feel that way.

It was 100 years ago today, on February 29 1916, that Dinah Shore was born Frances Rose Shore in Winchester, Tennessee. She started singing when she was still a little girl. She made her professional debut when she was only 14, singing as a torch singer at a nightclub in Nashville. Her parents had found out about it beforehand and while they allowed her to perform that one night, it would be a few years before she could again pursue singing professionally.

In fact, it would not be until she was attending Vanderbilt University that her singing career would really begin to take off.  While still in college she made her radio debut on WSM in Nashville. During a summer break she travelled to New York City to audition for various bands. After she graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in sociology she moved to New York City permanently. During many auditions she sang the song "Dinah". When disc jockey Martin Block of WNEW in New York City could not remember her name, he referred to her as the "Dinah girl." "Dinah' then became her stage name.

Dinah Shore's big break would come when she was hired as a singer at WNEW. She went onto sing and record with Xavier Cugat's band.  In 1939 she made her national radio debut on CBS on Ben Bernie's Orchestra. In February 1940 she became the featured singer on NBC's The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. That same year she became a regular on Eddie Cantor's radio show Time to Smile. It was in 1940 that she signed a contract with RCA Victor. That same year she had her first hit single, "Yes, My Darling."

Dinah Shore proved very popular in the Forties. She had a string of hits that lasted throughout most of the decade, including four number one records  ("I'll Walk Alone", "The Gypsy", "The Anniversary Song", and "Buttons and Bows"). The majority of her singles during the decade hit the top twenty and many even hit the top five. She also proved popular as a radio star, receiving her own show, Call to Music, in 1943, while appearing frequently on other radio shows. Miss Shore also sang for the troops at Allied bases in Europe and at Normandy.

In the Forties Dinah Shore would even have a brief film career. In most of her films she appeared as herself, vocalist Dinah Shore. This was the case with her film debut Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), as well as Follow the Boys (1944) and Till the Clouds Roll By (1946). She did act in two films, playing opposite Danny Kaye in Up in Arms (1944) and Randolph Scott in Belle of the Yukon (1944).

The Fifties saw Dinah Shore continue to have hit records in the early part of the decade. Sadly by the middle of the decade her singles began doing more poorly. Like many singers of traditional American pop she ran afoul of the new music genre of rock 'n' roll. Dinah Shore's career was hardly hurting, however, as she became a star in another medium: television. She made her television debut in 1949 as a guest on The Ed Wynn Show. She would go onto make guest appearances on Texaco Star Theatre, Four Star Review, The Jack Benny Program, and The Colgate Comedy Hour. It was in 1951 that she was given her own show, The Dinah Shore Show. The show proved popular, lasting until 1957. When it ended Dinah Shore would not be gone from television screens, as she already had another show. The Dinah Shore Chevy Show debuted as a special on October 5 1956. It proved popular enough that it became a regular program. Ultimately it ran until 1963. Miss Shore continued to guest star on other shows, even appearing as herself on I Love Lucy and Make Room for Daddy.

Dinah Shore continued to appear on television throughout the Sixties, making guest appearances on a Bob Hope special, The Danny Kaye Show, What's My Line?, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffih Show, The Dean Martin Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show. She also appeared in her own specials and in 1970 had her own show again. Dinah's Place was a weekday talk show that aired on NBC from 1970 to 1974. It featured guests ranging from Lucille Ball to Vincent Price to Diana Rigg. It won one Emmy for Outstanding Program Achievement in Daytime and was nominated one other time. It also won a Daytime Emmy for Best Host or Hostess in a Talk, Service, or Variety Series and was nominated for another three.

NBC cancelled Dinah's Place in 1974, but Miss Shore did not remain off the air for long. In September 1974 she debuted a new talk show in syndication, Dinah!. Like Dinah's Place, Dinah!  featured many well known celebrities, including Betty White, Dick Clark, Edward Asner, and even David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Dinah! ran until 1980. In the Seventies Dinah Shore continued to make appearances on other shows, guest starring on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; The Carol Burnett Show; and Alice.In the summer of 1976 she also had a summer replacement variety show, Dinah and her New Best Friends.

Dinah Shore appeared less frequently on television in the Eighties. She guest starred on episodes of Hotel and Murder, She Wrote. She made appearances on various specials, including Bob Hope's Women I Love: Beautiful But Funny, The All-Time American Songbook, and Christmas at Pee Wee's Playhouse. Beginning in 1990 she had her own talk show again, this time on the cable channel the Nashville Network. A Conversation with Dinah aired from 1989 to 1992 and featured Dinah doing one-on-one interviews with everyone from Bob Hope to President Gerald Ford.

Dinah Shore continued work to very nearly until she died. She guest starred on the variety show Vicki! in 1993 and then appeared on the TV documentary Danny Kaye: Nobody's Fool in 1994. Sadly, in 1993 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died on  February 24 1994 at the age of 77.

There can be little wonder why Dinah Shore's career lasted 55 years. She was a remarkable vocalist. In fact, in some respects she was a little bit ahead of her time. Her singing style was both smooth and cheery, presaging such later vocalists as Doris Day and Patti Page. Miss Shore was very good at singing upbeat, happy songs, but at the same time could sing a torch song with the best of them. It is little wonder that she had a string of hits spanning from the Forties to the mid-Fifties or that her songs remain popular to this day.

Of course, Dinah Shore was more than just a singer. If it could be said of anyone, she was a personality.  She was bright, warm, sweet, and funny. Miss Shore never lost her Tennessee drawl, which indubitably endeared her to many listeners and viewers (I know it did me--she sounded like the people around here). Dinah Shore had a gift for comedy as well as singing. She did quite well in the movie Up in Arms and was often the funniest person in any comedy skit in which she appeared.. Indeed, she appeared in possibly the greatest Carol Burnett Show skit of all time, "Went with the Wind!". In the famous Gone with the Wind parody Dinah Shore played Melody, a spoof on Melanie Hamilton from the film.

It was because of her natural friendliness that Dinah Shore excelled as a talk show host. Easy going and congenial, Dinah Shore was able to put her subjects at ease and thus get them to talk much more than they might have otherwise. What is more, Dinah Shore was comfortable with almost anyone, whether it was proto-punk rocker Iggy Pop or former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Ultimately I think it can be said that Dinah Shore comforted people and even made them feel happy. Unassuming, warm, and friendly, she made listeners and viewers feel better, no matter what was going on in their lives. It is little wonder that Dinah Shore would have such a lasting influence. Her singing style presaged that of female vocalists in the Fifties. She was also a pioneer in television, one of the first women to have a highly successful variety show. What is more, her career spanned five decades. If Dinah Shore seemed as if she was a mainstay of my childhood, it was probably because she was.

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