The Modernaires Biography

Originally called the Three Weary Willies, this vocal trio was formed in 1935 at Lafayette High School in Buffalo, New York, USA. Comprising Hal Dickinson (lead and second tenor), Bill Conway (baritone) and Chuck Goldstein (first tenor), they became residents on local radio station WGR. They became Don Juan And Two And Three when they moved to New York, where they began to feature on CBS radio. At this point Ralph Brewster joined as first tenor and Goldstein moved to baritone while Conway took over as bass. After a brief time with Ray Noble in 1939 they switched allegiance to Glenn Miller’s new outfit (Miller had been trombonist with Noble during the trio’s residency with Noble). They became the Modernaires, and their debut release, ‘Perfidia’, was as backing to Miller’s singer Paula Kelly. A number 11 hit, it presaged a further 10 chart records in 1941, the most popular of which included ‘The Booglie Wooglie Piggy’ (with Tex Beneke) and ‘I Guess I’ll Have To Dream The Rest’ and ‘Elmer’s Tune’, with Ray Eberle, which rose to number 1 in the Billboard charts. Other hits included collaborations with Beneke again and Ernie Caceres. They also sang on the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s signature tune, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’. Further number 1s with Miller came in 1942 with ‘Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)’, ‘(I’ve Got A Gal In) Kalamazoo’ and ‘Moonlight Cocktail’. When Miller was enlisted in the air force during the war, the Modernaires produced another number 1 in 1943 with ‘That Old Black Magic’, with Miller’s orchestra and Skip Nelson, which was included in the propaganda film Star Spangled Rhythm. With Miller missing in action, the Modernaires moved to Columbia Records in 1944 and began to record for the first time without an orchestra. Their second single was ‘Tribute To Glenn Miller’, a medley of his most popular moments. The rest of the 40s saw numerous line-up changes with Alan Copeland, Vernon Polk and Tommy Treynor all joining at some point. In 1949 the Modernaires recorded ‘The Old Master Painter’ with Frank Sinatra, and this was followed in 1950 by four further singles with Sinatra for Columbia. The early part of the 50s was less successful for the Modernaires, who had to wait until 1953 and a new contract with Coral Records for their next success, an update of ‘Juke Box Saturday Night’, which had previously been a staple of their work with Miller. However, though they continued to release records until 1958, it was to diminishing returns, and by the end of the decade they were no longer releasing new material.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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