Jeannette's Vaughn Monroe: Singer, Bandleader, TV Personality

Monday, 31 March 2014 06:30 AM Written by 

The Jeannette School Board's decision to name their high school auditorium for Vaughn Monroe (1911-1973), Class of '29, is probably a mystery to the vast majority of the student body and a good many others below the age of 65. In an era of vastly different musics and technologies, Monroe, a vocalist and orchestra leader, is almost an ancient figure, a star of the 20th Century who gained stardom during the Big Band Era of the 30's and 40's.

 Vaughn Wilton Monroe's actual birthplace was Akron, Ohio, the son of a researcher who worked in the rubber industry. His birth year was in dispute but his headstone (in Florida) shows the year as 1911. He began playing trumpet around 1921, when he was ten. The family lived in the Akron area until moving to Cudahy, Wisconsin. They relocated to Jeannette in 1927 when his father joined Pennsylvania Rubber (later known as General Tire and Rubber) and Vaughn entered Jeannette High as a Junior.

He became a popular athlete at Jeannette as well as a member of the school band and choir and Senior Class President. He met future wife Marian Baughman there. They would marry in 1940. Bent on following his dad into industry, he didn't stay in Jeannette long. He left to study at Carnegie Tech, playing trumpet in local dance bands to earn money for tuition. Finally, in 1932-33 he focused on a fulltime musical career. As a member of Austin Wylie's band, Monroe was in good company. A number of Wylie sidemen later became top bandleaders including Artie Shaw, Tony Pastor, Claude Thornhill and Jack Jenney.   After working with Jack Marshard's orchestra in Boston, Monroe formed his own orchestra there in 1940.

Monroe was a decent trumpeter but his rich baritone and crooning skills, highly bankable in an era of Bing Crosby, set him apart. A 1940 recording deal with RCA Victor brought forth a steady stream of hit singles featuring Monroe's vocals.  "There I Go" was his first big hit in 1940. A year later came "Racing With The Moon," not quite as big a hit, but the song that became his lifelong signature tune. Along with touring the country, he and the band were regulars on network radio shows during the 40's.  At some point before 1945, he wrote a new School Song for Jeannette High.

These were some of his hits.

1941: "Racing With The Moon"

This was Monroe's biggest hit record, a ballad Canonsburg's Bobby Vinton revived in the 60's.

1945: "There! I've Said It Again" His biggest hit record, the same tune Canonsburg's Bobby Vinton revived in the 60's

Others included the original "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" and "Ballerina," revived by Nat King Cole in 1957.

1948: "Ballerina"

1949:"Riders In The Sky"

Unlike many bandleaders, Monroe had business smarts. He owned the Meadows, a nightclub-restaurant outside Framingham, Massachusetts and had other business interests as well including a sizable investment in RCA itself. Among the future greats in his band: singer Georgia Gibbs and jazz greats Ray Conniff, Alvin Stoller and Bucky Pizzarelli. Ballads were Monroe's specialty, and he gave fans what they wanted, yet he also loved swing music and often let his musicians tear loose on the bandstand. 

As the Big Band Era ended, Monroe hosted TV shows in the 50's. After dissolving his orchestra in 1953 he worked as a solo vocalist. He semi-retired to Florida in the 60's, recording and doing occasional performing before he died unexpectedly in 1973 at 61, following major surgery.  His wife died in 2013 at 101.

In 1958 he re-recorded some of his hits in stereo for the RCA album There I Sing/Swing It Again, including "Let It Snow." The slightly more swinging version of the Sammy Cahn-Jule Style winter favorite surfaced 30 years later, in 1988, over the closing credits of the original Die Hard, 15 years after Monroe's death.

1958: "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"

RCA Pitchman:

He became the "Voice of RCA," starring in 1950's TV commercials for RCA Victor, back when the company manufactured radios, TVs and what were called "record players." This where I first saw him. Here's one of him advertising a prehistoric TV clicker known as the "Wireless Wizard."  Note the size and what constituted "full function" back in the day.

A specially produced late 50's jingle record promoting RCA's in-home TV repair service. It kinda rocks, after a fashion.

There was certainly more to Vaughn Monroe than the crooning. He didn't live in Jeannette long, but was a pretty cool guy, more than deserving of the honor.

 

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.