A day late, but let’s take a moment to acknowledge that long-time Northern California resident Doris Day turned 90 on Thursday.
Born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Day has pursued many passions over her lifetime, including an impressive film career and a tireless campaign for animal rights. She also has owned and operated the Cypress Inn in Carmel for many years.
It’s worth recalling amid the celebration that music was Day’s original claim to fame and that, indeed, she started out singing jazz. Martin Chilton in the English newspaper The Telegraph has an incisive look at that background you can read here. An excerpt:
While she was still a teenager, (Day) impressed jazz band leader Barney Rapp with her version of “Day After Day,” a song by Richard Himber & His Rhythmic Pyramids Orchestra. Rapp told her that von Kappelhoff was a name too unwieldy for concert marquees and suggested she changed her name to Day, in honour of the song she loved.
Her career was off and running and after a spell with the celebrated jazz band of Bob Crosby, she began singing with Brown's troupe, eventually marrying the band's trombonist Al Jordan, the first of four husbands. "She was every bandleader's dream," said Brown, "a vocalist who had natural talent, a keen regard for the lyrics and an attractive appearance." It was a 1945 song called “Sentimental Journey,” co-written by Brown, that made her name when it became a sort of unofficial anthem for troops as they returned home from Europe.
It was another jazz standard, “Embraceable You,” that triggered her career in movies. Her rendition at a Hollywood party prompted Jule Styne to arrange a screen test, which led to her first film, “Romance on the High Seas” (1948). She was a good actress (Oscar-nominated as Best Actress for “Pillow Talk” in 1959) but her singing in films was a key factor in her Hollywood success.
One of the best Day films for singing is the 1955 movie “Love Me Or Leave Me” (also starring James Cagney) in which Day played jazz singer Ruth Etting. The Twenties songs of Etting – including “Sam, the Old Accordion Man,” “Shaking the Blues Away” and “Everybody Loves My Baby” – were expertly performed by Day. It was a triumph because she deserves credit as a fine jazz and show tune singer.
Her early jazz recordings … remain so graceful and explain why Sarah Vaughan, when asked to name her favourite singer, replied "I dig Doris Day!"
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