|Birth name||Delmar Smith Porter|
|Born||April 13, 1902|
Newberg, Oregon, United States
|Died||October 4, 1977 (aged 75)|
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Genres||Big band jazz|
|Occupation(s)||Band leader, jazz musician|
Del Porter (April 13, 1902, Newberg, Oregon, October 4, 1977, Los Angeles) was an American jazz vocalist, saxophonist, and clarinetist who, in the 1930s, performed on Broadway, toured with Glenn Miller, and recorded with Bing Crosby, Dick Powell, and Red Nichols, and in the 1940s, led his own big band.
Porter was a singer with the Foursome, which came to prominence in the 1930 Broadway hit show, Girl Crazy. Porter, the best known member of the quartet, co-founded City Slickers with Spike Jones, about the time his group The Feather Merchants split up. With the Foursome's arranger and Porter's lifelong friend, Raymond M. Johnson, Porter reorganized the quartet around 1946 as the Sweet Potato Tooters. "Sweet potato" is a nickname for an ocarina.
The Foursome of Del Porter, Ray Johnson, J. Marshall Smith and Dwight Snyder, first appeared on Broadway in the two-act musical "Ripples" that had a short run of 55 performances, opening on February 11 and closing on March 29, 1930, at the New Amsterdam Theatre. The four performers appeared as four State Troopers. Music was by Oscar Levant and Albert Sirmay; Book by William Anthony McGuire; Lyrics by Irving Caesar and Graham John. Scenic design was by Joseph Urban.
They next appeared in the hit show Girl Crazy that ran for 272 performances at the Alvin Theatre, opening on October 14, 1930, and closing on May 6, 1931. Music by George Gershwin; Lyrics by Ira Gershwin; Book by Guy Bolton and John McGowan; Choreographed by George Hale. Girl Crazy introduced Ethel Merman to the Broadway Stage and made a star out of Ginger Rogers. The Foursome were featured in the opening number "The Lonesome Cowboy Won't Be Lonesome Now!". They next performed the song Bidin' My Time, which was reprised twice in the opening act. They again appeared, in the show-stopping "I Got Rhythm" number, where they were featured with Ethel Merman. The Foursome were in the finale of Embraceable You and I Got Rhythm.
The Foursome's final Broadway show was in Cole Porter's Anything Goes, at the Alvin Theatre in 1934, that ran for a year, opening November 21, and closing after 420 performances. Words and music by Cole Porter, Book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse; Book revised by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse; Choral arrangements by Ray Johnson. The Foursome was reunited with Ethel Merman. They had two musical numbers in addition to ensemble work. Their featured song was "Sailors' Chantey (There'll Always Be a Lady Fair) in the first act. They again backed up Ethel Merman, in the Anything Goes number, that ends the first act.
Foursome Recordings and On Film
Del Porter joined the Foursome in 1928. He was brought in by Ray Johnson, who he had met at Oregon State Agriculture College. They joined Marshall Smith and Dwight Snyder who had formed the Foursome in 1926. Prior to Porter joining the group they had recorded for Columbia Records. The Foursome's biggest hit was the song Walkin' My Baby Back Home in 1932. There was one thing that separated the Foursome from the many, many other vocal quartettes in the USA; the Foursome also played Ocarinas in harmony, which was not an easy thing to do. When they were in Hollywood shooting Born to Dance (1936) Porter ran into Bing Crosby. Bing had met him in Spokane in the Twenties where Porter and Ray Johnson were musicians playing a gig in a dance band. Crosby liked the Foursome's singing, but realized the ocarinas, and also Porter's clarinet, could add a fresh sound to old songs. He invited them to back him up on his radio show The Kraft Music Hall. Bing also brought them into the recording studio to record songs for Decca such as Sweet Georgia Brown; Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider; My Honey's Loving Arms; Chinatown, My Chinatown and others in 1937. In 1938 they backed up Dick Powell on several recordings, and they backed up Bing on When the Bloom is on the Sage. They were even busier in 1939 backing up Pinky Tomlin, Shirley Ross, Dick Powell and Bing. One of the songs with Bing was the Johnny Burke and James V Monaco song "Sweet Potato Piper," inspired by the Foursome, for the 1940 film The Road to Singapore.
With Spike Jones
Spike Jones played the drums on Foursome recordings. Spike came up with idea that Porter should start a band. Porter created The Feather Merchants, a six-piece band, that did zany material, such as Freddie Fisher's Snickelfritz Band did. Spike managed the band for ten bucks a week. After limited success, Spike suggested he would join the band. Eventually, the band evolved from the Feather Merchants to Spike Jones and His City Slickers.
Porter was happy with being a creative force but not being the leader of a band. With the Slickers he could write songs, sing and play on records, and let Spike book the gigs. Porter was the lead vocalist, and also played clarinet and arranged. Among the songs Porter wrote. "Siam" and "Pass the Biscuits Mirandy" became part of the band's book. His arrangements were early hits, "Hotcha Cornia" and "Der Fuehrer's Face," with Der Fuehrer being the band's first recording.
"Der Fuehrer's Face" reached number three on the pop charts. It gave the Slickers exposure that got them on three national radio shows. On the show Furlough Fun they performed songs and also musical ads for Gilmore Gas. The show was on Monday nights at 7:30 pm. Among the songs they performed were the Porter composition "The Greatest Man in Siam," and the Porter arrangement "Hotcha Cornia." They were on Furlough Fun for two seasons. They made over a dozen appearances on the radio show Command Performance broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Network . They started on September 19, 1942; with their last appearance on Christmas Eve 1944. On Command Performance they appeared with Tommy Dorsey, Cary Grant, Lionel Hampton, Bob Hope, Lena Horne, Dinah Shore and Ethel Waters. In 1943 they started regular appearances on the Bob Burns Radio Show. They continued with Bob Burns until The Slickers got their own radio show, sponsored by Chase and Sanborn Coffee in 1945.
Among the rarest of the Spike Jones recordings were Cinamatone discs. The discs were 12 inches in diameter with ten tunes on one side. They were made the year before the Slickers got their RCA recording contract, in 1940. They were for a juke box that played for a song for a penny. Porter sang on the sides the Slickers cut. The band was called The Penny Funnies. Dr. Demento on a Spike Jones tribute night in 2015 played, with Porter singing, the Cinamatone, Runnin' Wild.
Entertaing the Troops
In 1944 the Slickers and Porter performed for the troops in Europe. They flew to Scotland, then to London on a train. The train didn't make to London due to a buzz bomb destroying the tracks outside of the city. A bus arrived eventyually to take them into town. There they found more buzz bomb attacks. Porter said in an interview with Ted Haring in 1971 "But, oh, we had buzz bombs like mad! Boy! We had three or four a week while we were over there." After entertaning troops in England they went to France, just after D Day. On the tour with them was Dinah Shore and Edward G Robinson. Porter said "And we gave a big show up on the hill from the beach that night. And you should have seen the guys! Well, you've seen the Bob Hope things on TV. Well, they were spread out acres of guys! It was the most thrilling thing in the world! And, oh, did they enjoy it! Dinah, she was terrific! In fact, when we first got on the beach, she stood up on the side of a truck and sang five or six (or maybe more) songs, with no accompaniment or anything, for the guys that gathered around. Other trucks were going by, and the dust was flying. How she sang in that dust, I'll never know! Great gal. Wonderful gal." From there the Slickers separated from Shore and Robinson, going out by themselves to entertain. Porter reported "We were with the Ninth Air Corps all the time we were in France, playing one landing strip after another. We had our base camp at one, and we'd start out in the morning, real early. And at lunch time we'd play one, oh, probably 60 miles away. We'd have lunch there, and then we'd go on, play one mid-afternoon, and then some place else and play one in the evening. And then, coming back to our base camp after dark, with no lights but – you know what cat eyes are on a truck? They're just a little strip of light. That's all the light we had. And these green drivers, these guys that didn't know where they were (Laughs), it was real exciting! Believe me! And we had to have a password, every so often. Somebody would stop us, and you'd have to know the password. If the guy in the truck ever forgot the password, it was too bad!"
- Biography, Del Porter, by Jordan R. Young, AllMusic
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- Ted Hering, interview with Del Porter 1971, Cool and Strange Music magazine, Issue # 16, 1999