As Jazz ushered in the decade of the 1920's, another musical genre was vast on the horizon. The introduction of a breakthrough amplification device called the “microphone” allowed for a softer more melodic voice to grace the stages of theaters and concert halls. Deep from the diaphram belters, such as Al Jolson, now had competition from ballad whispering “crooners”, that, prior to the age of the mike, couldn't be heard more than a few feet away.
American audiences welcomed the soft-spoken singers with open hearts and open ears. These touted “crooners” would change the face of music and set the stage for modern American music as we know it today.
Although the list of early day crooners is long, some of the most heralded notables are: Rudy Vallée, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. Riding on the coattails of these legends were performers such as, Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Tom Jones, and Englebert Humperdinck. By the time these balladeers made it on the scene the term “crooners” was declining as a descriptive term for the soft sentimental sound. By the late 1950's and early 1960's, this type of music was being labeled more and more as “easy listening”.
Rock and Roll officially entered the music scene in the late 1950's with legends such as Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Elvis Presley. Although a very different style, rock music derives much of its roots from the crooners of the 30's, 40's and 50's.
The persona of male singers changed with the arrival of the “crooners”. Men could now sing about being love sick, a puppet, head over heels, and even emotional over a woman. The he-man tough-guy exterior was being shed and women were swooning over these seemingly more sensitive vocalist.
The so-called pioneer of the crooners, Rudy Vallée, enjoyed a versatile career with radio, film, and television. One of his most famous hits, “As Time Goes By” was from the classic American film, “Casablanca”. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. also became big box office draws at the movie theaters. Some of these leading men became bigger screen stars then they were recording artist.
By the early 1960's with the “crooner” singing style still going strong, some new voices were emerging. Andy Williams, Tony Bennett and Perry Como were now on the scene. Las Vegas became the main hotspot for these acts to perform and they were all over television with specials and weekly programs. By the late 1960's we were seeing the torch being passed to a new, more hip group of crooners with the emergence of Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. Suits and ties were being replaced with leather and big sideburns, but the music still stayed fairly true to form. A little more rock and pop entered into the mix with these newcomers. However, they were still exciting their female fan-base with the love crooning songs that incited girls to offer up their undergarments to singers right there on stage.
With the first crooners surfacing in the late 1920's, this style of music spanned several decades with a few changes over time. By the late 1980's to present day, we saw a resurgence of the original crooners being offered up to a new generation. Artist like, Harry Connick Jr., Michael Bublé and Michael Feinstein, have brought back more of the original crooning style. Even in their attire we see more of the 30's and 40's type of crooner resurfacing.
Although each artist brings his own unique style to the table, the musical standard that most crooners follow is that of the Great American Songbook. The Great American Songbook incorporates the Broadway musical theater as well as the Hollywood musical style of the late 1920's.
It looks as though crooning is here to stay. Whether it's called easy listening or adult contemporary, the style or technique is alive and well. People want the sentimental, soft-spoken love songs of yester-year. It appeals to something innate in our deepest desire to express pain or jubilance as it refers to love.
Thanks to one monumental technological advance, the microphone, crooning is alive and well. So pass the mike to a new generation, its crooner time!