Joe´s Music Rack
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Arthur Tracy


Born: June 25, 1899
Died: October 5, 1997

Arthur Tracy was an American vocalist, billed as 'The Street Singer'. His performances in theatre, films and radio, along with his recordings, brought him international fame in the 1930s. Late evening radio listeners tuned in to hear announcer David Ross' introduction ("Round the corner and down your way comes The Street Singer") and Tracy's familiar theme song, "Marta, Rambling Rose of the Wildwood."

Born Abba Avrom Tracovutsky in Kamenetz-Podolsky, Russian Empire (now Ukraine), in June 25, 1899. At age 6, he emigrated to the United States with his parents, sisters, and brother in April 1906. After their release from the Ellis Island Immigrant station, the name Tracy was bestowed upon the family by immigration officers. They settled in Philadelphia. Naturalized in 1913, Tracy's parents became known as Morris and Fannie Tracy.

He received an elementary education, without any formal theatrical or musical training, produced and acted in school plays in his early teens and in 1917, graduated from Central High School. He began studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania but dropped out to become a professional singer. He began singing part-time in the Yiddish theatre, as Yiddish was his first language. Minstrel shows and vaudeville while working as a furniture salesman. After winning a singing competition in Philadelphia, he was engaged by the eminent producers the Shubert brothers and played the leading roles in the operettas Blossom Time and The Student Prince. After touring the US and Canada, he returned to the Yiddish Theatre under the direction of Boris Thomashevski (the grandfather of the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas).

After moving to New York City in 1924, he appeared regularly in vaudeville, joined the Blossom Time touring company and appeared in various New York amateur revues, where he was seen by William S. Paley who offered him a 15-minute CBS radio program. In 1931 Tracy was offered a recording contract with Columbia Records, for whom his output was prolific. His signature tune, which he used until the end of his career, was a romantic ballad called "Marta, Rambling Rose of the Wild Wood". When radio beckoned, he felt that he would benefit from a little mystery in his professional persona and adopted the name of "The Street Singer". However, a play of the same name by the British playwright Frederick Lonsdale was being presented on Broadway at that time, and so he titled himself "The Street Singer of the Radio" to avoid confusion (later abandoning the final three words).

To avoid embarrassing his family if his show failed and to prevent being blackballed from future vaudeville bookings for having appeared on radio, Tracy decided to make his identity a mystery and borrowed a billing from the title of Frederick Lonsdale's musical The Street Singer (1924). Listeners demanded to know his identity, but it was not revealed until five months after his 1931 debut on CBS. The following year he was off to Hollywood to appear in 'The Big Broadcast' (1932) with other radio stars, including Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, and the Boswell Sisters.

Tracy went to Britain in 1932 to fulfil an engagement as top of the bill at the London Palladium. Instant success brought him bookings throughout Britain, starring at all the principal variety houses. Radio Luxembourg soon called for his services and he was engaged to do many series of programmes, notably commercials for a ladies' cosmetic product, "Tokalon Face Powder". He was a smooth talker and a natty dresser and soon became one of the smart set, enjoying a friendship with the Prince of Wales. He stayed in Britain, continuing his radio and music-hall career, and made four films, including Limelight (1936), with Anna Neagle as his leading lady, The Street Singer (1937), with Margaret Lockwood, and Follow Your Star (1938), with Lilli Palmer, which were very successful. In the short film Ramblin' Round Radio Row #5 (1933), his last name is pronounced "Treecy".

Tracy gave his romantic interpretation to such songs as "When I Grow Too Old to Dream", "I'll See You Again", "Trees", "Everything I Have Is Yours", "Red Sails in the Sunset", "Harbor Lights", "The Whistling Waltz", and "Danny Boy". His September 1935 recording of "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" is among the very first of that much recorded song.

He returned to the US in 1940, continuing his career until his age and the emergence of the rock 'n' roll era made his particular image unfashionable. Nevertheless, his records still sell in great numbers today and his fan clubs in Britain and the US still kept in touch with him at his Manhattan West Side apartment, a veritable museum of posters, sheet music, records, tapes and press material. Only recently he was presented with a gold CD to mark the extraordinary sales of his work; he was the oldest star to receive such acclaim. In 1978, Arthur Tracy was coronated King of the Beaux Arts Ball. He presided with Queen Hope Hampton.

Arthur Tracy's 1937 recording of "Pennies from Heaven" was featured in the 1981 movie of that name, with Vernel Bagneris lip-synching to Tracy's voice. The film brought Tracy out of retirement, and at age 82 he returned as a cabaret singer at The Cookery in Greenwich Village in 1982. This brought a favorable review in The New York Times from John Wilson, who wrote that his vocalizing had "a delightful patina of period charm", adding that Tracy was "a spellbinder, setting a mood and scene, disarming the doubters by admitting that 'I always put all the schmalz I had into my songs.'"

He visited Britain in the spring of 1995, making a live broadcast on Radio 2 on the John Dunn show. When I accompanied him to the BBC recording studio, it transpired that the news of his broadcast had been announced a day earlier and there was a crowd of his fans waiting for him, requesting autographs, taking photographs and cine films.

After his re-emergence with "Pennies From Heaven," he acted in the touring company of Andrew Bergman's Broadway play "Social Security" and was in the movie "Crossing Delancey." In 1996, he was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. His autobiography, "The Street Singer," is to be published this year by Harold Martin and Redman.

This week Mr. Tracy's former wife, Blossom, remembered his radio debut: "The announcer said, 'Down the corner and round your way comes the Street Singer to sing to you his romantic ballads of yesterday and yore.' " After Mr. Tracy sang, she said, the announcer returned: "And there he goes, the Street Singer . . . back again tomorrow night to serenade you."

His English recording manager visited him and said: "Arthur, you're going to make it to 100 and when you do we will make a special album to commemorate the event." It was not to be.

He died on Sunday October 5, 1997 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He was 98 and lived in Manhattan, New York.


Songs he recorded

  1. I'm Just a Poor Street Singer
    (Paul Relf - Bruno Uher - Woods)
    Decca 108-B - 38464 - New York, NY - September 21, 1934 - Notes

  2. Jazznocracy
    Decca 107-A - 38439 - New York, NY - August 27, 1934 - 3:03

  3. Rollin' Home
    (Peter De Rose (C) - (L) Billy Hill)
    Decca 108-A - 38354 - New York, NY - August 20, 1934 - Notes

  4. White Heat
    (Will Hudson)
    Decca 107-B - 38440=B - New York, NY - August 27, 1934 - 2:37 - Notes

Bernard Mendelovitch Thursday 09 October 1997
Mel Gussow Published: October 8, 1997
Your Key To Collectibles - Decca 78 DISCOGRAPHY



Arthur Tracy
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