Friday, November 20, 2009

The Hour of Charm

There were other all-female orchestras. Phil had run radio orchestras before, but this was the only novelty act. Strangely, all the 78s I've found by the Hour of Charm were by The Hour of Charm Orchestra and Choir and all of them were religious hymns. Spitalny and the orchestra debuted on radio on January 3, 1935.Phil was born in 1890 in Tetiev, Ukraine. He played clarinet and was educated at the Conservatory of Music in Odessa. He emigrated with his family to America while he was still a boy in 1915. They settled in Cleveland. He was fronting big bands by the 1920s. His first big gig was performing at the Hotel Statler.

In 1933 he began to put together his dance orchestra. He actually traveled state to state recruiting members. His plan was to play light music, gently jazzed up classics, and ballroom classical. It was all exceedingly bland. It's focus was Evelyn and her Magic Violin. The magic violinist was Evelyn Kaye Klein, who used the professional name, Evelyn Silverstone. The Orchestra was a 22 piece band included Mary McClanahan on drums, who was later replaced by Viola Smith. Grace Haye played guitar and the dainty Jan Baker played tuba. One of his trumpet players, Phyllis Clendening was still in highschool. There's a comprehensive list here. All 22 members were bound by contract to practice 5 hours a day, no dating, and not to get married without 6 months notice. nonetheless he lost a number of musicians to marrige and to the military in WWII. More here.

They started out on the CBS Network on Sundays in 1935, then in 1936 moved to NBC sponsored by General Electric. They went back to CBS in 1946 and stuck with it for another two years. They also performed on AFRN. As their popularity grew, Phil took the opportunity to expand the orchestra to 36 members. In 1949 they performed at President Harry S. Truman's electoral ball. They recorded for RCA Victor and Columbia. But in 1948 recorded on their own label. Those are the 78s that I kept bumping into. More here.

In time, Phil married his 'magic violinist' in 1946 and retired to Miami Beach in 1958. In semi-retirement he wrote as amusic critic for a local Miami newspaper. He died in 1970. Interesting note, Phil actually has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.