Frank Crumit

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from: Another Book About Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Entries


Crumit, Frank (26 September 1889 - 7 September 1943)

He was born in Jackson, Ohio. His father, who was a banker, was also named Frank. He first worked on stage at the age of five as part of an amateur minstrel show. As a youth he also worked as a motion picture show entertainer in Ohio cities. He attended Culver Military Academy and graduated in 1912 from Ohio University of Athens, Ohio, with a degree in electrical engineering. He composed a marching song adopted by another college, Ohio State, and eventually recorded by Crumit for Victor: "The Buckeye Battle Cry."

Crumit went into vaudeville after leaving school, developing ukulele playing into a fine art and honing his songwriting skills. His act was informal: he strolled onto the stage, pulled a chair to the footlights, and sang to his own ukulele accompaniment. It attracted the attention of musical comedy entrepreneurs and Crumit in 1918 landed the leading role in Betty, Be Good. This was followed by the Greenwich Village Follies of 1920, in which he sang, among other numbers, "I'm A Lonesome Little Raindrop" (issued on Columbia A3332).

He was in the original cast of Tangerine, which opened its New York run at the Casino Theatre on August 9, 1921. With fellow composer Dave Zoob, he wrote "Sweet Lady" for that show (lyrics were by Howard Johnson), strumming and singing it to the show's leading lady, Julia Sanderson, who became his wife within six years. Crumit later noted that eleven years after it was first heard on Broadway, he and his wife had sung the song more than 16,000 times for stage and radio audiences.

Sanderson, a native of Springfield, Massachusetts, was born on August 20, 1887. Daughter of actor Albert Sackett, she had performed on stage since 1903, eventually enjoying success in a number of Broadway productions. Her first husband was James Todhunter Sloan, a jockey. Crumit and Sanderson later worked together in many musicals. Shortly after they were married on July 1, 1927, the couple moved to Dunrovin--the name of their home at Longmeadow, Springfield, Massachusetts. By 1928 they began performing on radio and were known as the "Singing Sweethearts" of the air. In 1930 the couple originated the quiz show Battle of the Sexes over the Columbia network from WABC, and in 1938 through WEAF to the NBC network, where it remained a feature until July 1943. On April 25 and 28, 1941, the two cut eight songs issued in a Decca set of records (A-245). Following a brief layoff, the pair had started two new series at WABC when Crumit died suddenly of a heart attack on September 7, 1943 in his apartment at the Hotel Gotham, Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Fifth Street, New York. Sanderson was given a new show with the Mutual network on December 2, 1943. But without her husband she apparently had little enthusiasm for continuing her career and, after several months, retired.

Crumit began his recording career at age 30. "My Gal," on Columbia A2884, coupled with Al Jolson singing George Gershwin's first major success, "Swanee," was issued in May 1920. Crumit cut "My Gal" on December 10, 1919, and for the next four years Columbia released new Crumit titles almost every month.

In the spring of 1920 he made his first sides, anonymously, for Little Wonder. Sam Ash and Henry Burr were two tenors who made many Little Wonders in earlier years, but Ash stopped making records, and Burr became exclusive to Victor in late 1920. Crumit filled this void, many many Little Wonders from 1920 to 1923.

Jim Walsh states in the November 1953 issue of Hobbies, "Personally, I think Frank was unfortunate in that the microphonic method of recording had not been developed when he signed his Columbia contract. Some singers sounded better when recorded by the horn system than under the early electric process, but Crumit did not. He came into his own after the 'mike' succeeded the horn....The most successful recorders of that day were those with naturally strong, well-rounded voices, such as Caruso's, or those who expended large quantities of energy by 'hammering'--that is, singing vigorously into the horn. Frank's easy, relaxed, informal method of singing was not adapted to acoustic techniques. Too often it was made to sound rather nasal, flat and without enough 'body.'"

Crumit discs were regularly issued by Columbia through February 1924 (his final session was on October 29, 1923), and they helped popularize "Whispering" (sung with William Davidson), "Margie," "Three O'Clock in the Morning," "Dapper Dan," "Stumbling," "I Gave You Up Just Before You Threw Me Down," and "Say It With a Ukulele." Columbia suffered grave financial difficulties in the early 1920s, which may have influenced the tenor's decision to sign in 1923 an exclusive Victor contract.

His first Victor disc was released on February 8, 1924: "Oh, Baby!" backed by "Sweet Alice" (19236), the latter being his own composition. Both titles were recorded in December 1923. His first Victor disc was followed by the release on February 29 of "Mindin' My Business" (19259; the reverse side features Marcia Freer and Lewis James). After the electric recording process was introduced in 1925 (Victor officially introduced its new Orthophonic line of products on November 2), Crumit became more popular. The microphone captured his easygoing personality and added depth to his voice. His biggest sellers were issued during the Orthophonic era: "Frankie and Johnnie" backed by "Abdul Abulbul Amir" (20715; 1927) and "A Gay Caballero" backed by "I Learned About Women From Her" (21735; 1928).

In the early 1930s he continued making Victor records. These did not sell well in the United States but were popular in Great Britain where His Master's Voice issued Victor matrices.

In August 1934 Crumit began performing for the new Decca Records, Inc., which, then under English control, marketed a 35-cent record in the U.S. Although his releases, which included remakes of some earlier hits, did not sell well, Decca sporadically issued his material through 1942 in an attempt to exploit his radio success.