From 1923 until late 1932, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians were among Victor Records best-selling bands. In late 1932, he abruptly quit recording, although his band continued to perform on radio. In 1933 “You Gotta Be A Football Hero” was performed on radio to great acclaim and some recordings of this still exist.
When he decided to add a men’s singing group to his growing ensemble (he had toyed with glee club-like vocal ensembles from members of his orchestra), he recruited a young man named Robert Shaw, recently out of the Pomona College glee club, to train his singers. Shaw went on to found the Robert Shaw Chorale, direct the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, and become America’s preeminent conductor of serious choral music — although the recordings of the men of the Robert Shaw Chorale contain strong echoes of the famous Waring glee club sound.
During the war years, Waring and his ensemble appeared at countless war bond rallies and entertained the troops at training camps. He also composed and/or performed dozens of patriotic songs, his most famous being “My America.” Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, Waring and The Pennsylvanians produced a string of hits, selling millions of records, and remained among the best known musical groups in the nation. A few of his many choral hits include “Sleep,” Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Button Up Your Overcoat,” “White Christmas,” “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor” and “Dancing In The Dark.”
In 1947, Waring began holding summer choral workshops at his Pennsylvania headquarters in Shawnee-on-the Delaware (which, by then, was also the home of Shawnee Press, Inc., the music publisher which he founded). For 37 years, talented young musicians from all over America flocked to these sessions and were taught to sing with precision, sensitivity and enthusiasm by the meticulous Waring. Among the many techniques the “maestro” shared with his pupils was his method of pronouncing “every sound of every syllable of every word,” thereby making the words of a song as clear to the audience as the music. The inspired singers then went home and shared what they had learned with fellow musicians, and Waring’s approach to choral singing spread throughout the nation. His reputation as “the man who taught America how to sing” was well earned.
Waring expanded into television in 1949, with The Fred Waring Show on CBS. The program ran until 1955 and received several awards for Best Musical Program. In the 1960s and 1970s, popular musical tastes turned from choral music, but Waring changed with the times, introducing his “Young Pennsylvanians,” a group of fresh-faced, long-haired, bell-bottomed performers who sang both old favorites and “choralized” arrangements of contemporary songs. In this way he continued to be a popular touring attraction, logging some 40,000 miles a year.
Ron Ketelsen, a “Young Pennsylvanians” singer in the late 70s, remembers Fred Waring with both awe and affection. “Whenever he entered a room, people stood up,” Ketelsen said. “He was extremely well-respected. No one ever called him ‘Fred’ - it was always ‘Mr. Waring.’” Ketelsen also remembers Waring’s repartee with his audiences between musical numbers. As a judge of the “Miss America” competition, Waring sometimes invited contestants onto his shows, and might comment on the brevity of their outfits by saying, “The women’s costumes aren’t quite finished yet, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy what you do see.”
In the 1930s, inventor Frederick Jacob Osius went to Waring for financial backing for an electric blender he had patented. Osius patent (#2,109,501) was awarded March 1, 1938 and filed March 13, 1937.) Canadian Patent #383356, ‘Drink Mixer’ was issued Aug 15, 1939. Some $25,000 later, the “Miracle Mixer” debuted in 1937 at a Chicago trade show, with a retail price of $29.75. The following year, the name was changed to Waring Blendor. The mixers became an essential appliance for every “modern kitchen.” It was said that Waring blenders were used by Jonas Salk for developing his polio vaccine.
Throughout his career, Fred Waring received many awards, but none was as illustrious as his last one. In 1983, the 83-year-old Waring — by now considered king of popular choral music — was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest honor for a civilian, by President Ronald Reagan.
Fred Waring died suddenly of stroke on July 29, 1984 at the place where it all began — Penn State University — just after videotaping a concert with his ensemble and completing his annual summer choral workshop. He conducted many such workshops at Penn State in his later years, and in 1984, designated Penn State to house his collection of archives and memorabilia. He also served his alma mater as a trustee and was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University. While many believe that “Waring Commons” at Penn State is named for him, it is actually named for his grandfather, William Waring. A small meeting room by the West Wing restaurant has dozens of cartoons drawn by artists such as Al Hirschfeld in Waring’s honor.
Fred Waring was survived by five adult children; Dixie, Fred Waring Jr., William “Bill”, Paul and Malcolm. Son Fred Jr. enjoyed a long and varied musical career as conductor and jazz trombonist. Grandson Jordan Waring attained some success as a classical composer.
The always-popular bandleader/choral conductor had spent a lifetime entertaining a nation and had, indeed, taught it how to sing. For almost 70 years, this untiring artist and his beloved “Pennsylvanians” had enchanted audiences too numerous to count. There is little doubt that “Mr. Waring” did more to popularize choral music in America than any other person.
Edited by PappaWheelie on 3 Nov 2007, 15:21
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