The Happiness Boys -- Comic Team of Billy Jones and Ernest Hare
- by Tim Gracyk
The following is an entry from POPULAR ACOUSTIC ERA RECORDING ARTISTS, by Tim Gracyk.
This team of tenor Billy Jones and bass-baritone Ernest Hare recorded frequently in the 1920s, enjoying success on various labels, major and minor. They were also famous as radio artists.
They probably met in a Brunswick recording studio though Fred Rabenstein, who was paymaster for the Edison company for years, told Jim Walsh that Jones met Ernest Hare in the Edison recording studios. If they did meet here for the first time, it must have been in 1920, with nothing by the duo successfully recorded at that time--in other words, nothing featuring the team was issued by Edison in 1920.
Jones and Hare made their first Edison record on June 25, 1921, and Edison promotional literature dated December 1921, announcing the release of "Down at the Old Swimming Hole" on Blue Amberol 4391, states, "To our knowledge, they have not been paired before." This documented Edison session of 1921 took place a few months after their first Brunswick session.
Jim Walsh cites in the June 1974 issue of Hobbies what Rabenstein recalled about that first Edison meeting: "[T]hey had amused themselves by singing opera in a burlesque fashion, as they [later] did in their 1922 record of 'Operatic Syncopation'...They seemed to have everything in common except that Jones was a bachelor (he took a wife after his mother's death) and Hare was married, with a little girl named Marilyn, who was to serve for a short time as Jones's singing partner after her father's death in 1939. Hare was six years older to the day than Jones; both had mothers whose maiden names were Roberts; both were five feet and seven inches tall; both had voices of operatic calibre that perfectly complemented each other, and both had had operatic experience."
Evidence is strong that they were first teamed during a Brunswick session. An article by David Wallace on the Happiness Boys in the February 1937 issue of Popular Songs credits Brunswick's recording manager for bringing together the two singers: "It was Gus Haenschen, now a noted orchestra leader but then recording manager for Brunswick records, who suggested that Billy Jones and Ernie Hare pool their talents. Their first record [together] was 'All She'd Say Was Mmm-mmm-mmm' [sic] and it sold so well they immediately found themselves in the money. They made records for 16 phonograph companies. On December 13, 1923, as 'The Happiness Boys,' Billy and Ernie broadcast on their first commercial program. Their job was to advertise the Happiness Candy Stores, over WEAF. They started at $100 a week for the team and $15 a week for their accompanist. They were the Happiness Boys for five and a half years. In 1928, Jones and Hare became the highest paid singers in radio. They received $1,250 a week as the Flit Soldiers for singing over WJZ and 25 stations. The following year they became the Interwoven Pair, which they remained for two years."
Their teaming up seems almost inevitable since in 1920 Jones made records for the same companies as Hare--Brunswick, Okeh, PathÅ, Gennett, others. They first sang together on Brunswick 2063, "All She'd Say Was 'Umh Hum,'" issued in March 1921. As "Reese Jones," Billy Jones as a solo artist had recorded this earlier for Edison (Blue Amberol 4149).
They did not record together again for a few months, Hare still having a partner in Al Bernard (their "Change Your Name, Malinda Lee" was issued on Olympic 14110 in August 1922). In the spring of 1921 Jones and Hare recorded "I Like It" for Okeh 4325, which was issued in July. Also in July Brunswick issued "Nestle In Your Daddy's Arms" backed by "Down Yonder" (2101).
On October 18, 1921, they were on radio for the first time, broadcasting over WJZ from a Westinghouse factory in Newark, New Jersey-- probably the first time a program was broadcast in the metropolitan New York area. They would become radio stars of the 1920s. They were fortunate in that they were not exclusive to Victor or Brunswick in the early 1920s since these companies prohibited their artists from performing for radio audiences, as Ward Seeley reported in "Will the Great Artists Continue?" in the June 1923 issue of The Wireless Age.
From mid-1922 onwards they made records as a duo on a regular basis but each continued to have sessions as a solo artist and each continued to contribute vocal refrains to dance band records. They were never exclusive to any record company. Records of the duo made from 1921 to early 1924 do not use the name Happiness Boys but instead cite the names Billy Jones and Ernest Hare (usually in that order), or pseudonyms for the two singers were used. They became known as the Happiness Boys because as radio entertainers they were sponsored--beginning in August 1923--on Manhattan's WEAF by the Happiness Candy Stores, owned by Irving Fuerst.
The name Happiness Boys was first used on a label on Victor 19340, issued on June 20, 1924: "Hard Boiled Rose" backed by "Oh! Eva." Talking Machine World used the name Happiness Boys for the first time on page 99 of the June 1924 issue, which features a full-page advertisement for their "Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo" on Columbia 132- D. Edison literature first used the name Happiness Boys on its August 1924 release sheet of new Blue Amberol cylinders. In announcing the release of "Down Where the South Begins" on Blue Amberol 4892, the list states, "North or South, East or West- -everywhere, this rollicking song by Jones and Hare (The Happiness Boys) will brighten many an evening." Other companies continued to use the name of Jones and Hare for some time, some eventually adding "The Happiness Boys" in parenthesis.
From the early to mid-1920s the comic duo was regularly accompanied by studio orchestras, but from 1925 to 1929 Dave Kaplan often provided piano accompaniment. On Victor 19718, which features performances cut on July 1, 1925, Kaplan assists the singers, and the disc's labels give credit to him in a conventional way: "Piano Accomp.--Dave Kaplan." Soon afterwards Victor labels for Happiness Boys discs stated, "Dave Kaplan at the piano." In the 1920s Kaplan directed Edison house musicians on popular numbers (Cesare Sodero supervised anything classical in nature), with many performances credited to Kaplan's Melodists. By mid-1927 he began using the name Dave Kaplan with His Happiness Orchestra. In the 1920s Kaplan worked for Edison exclusively except when he joined Jones and Hare in other studios to provide accompaniment. (Page 90 of the January 1922 issue of Metronome establishes that Kaplan worked for publisher G. Schirmer Inc. in the early 1920s and was "known as one of the cleverest of New York's famous dance [dance band?] arrangers.")
By 1924 the Happiness Boys adopted "How Do You Do?" as their radio theme song. They maintained a business office at 1674 Broadway in New York City. The peak years of their popularity as record artists were probably 1925 to 1927. It is possible that by 1928 their many performances on radio adversely affected sales of their records, with members of the public deciding that they did not want records of Jones and Hare with songs that they were also performing on radio.
They were among the first to make electric recordings, even cutting one song--"I Miss My Swiss"--for both Victor and Columbia in the early weeks of the new electric era. They were important Edison artists throughout the 1920s, the last Jones and Hare Diamond Disc (52598) being issued on July 5, 1929. Their final record was made in 1930, with Victor 22491 featuring the talking skits "The Happiness Boys Going Abroad" and "The Happiness Boys in London" (Hare's last record made as a solo artist was issued in 1932). In 1930 they appeared in a Vitaphone short titled Rambling 'Round Radio Row With Jerry Ward-- Introducing the Happiness Boys, Billy Jones and Ernie Hare.
They continued working on radio in the early 1930s, the duo's name changing as sponsors changed. Their popularity waned, and network activities ceased in 1932. Radio Guide during the winter of 1933-34 shows Jones and Hare working as "The Taystee Loafers," on WOR on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:15. Sponsored by the Taystee Bread Company, the show was probably not syndicated. The orchestra was The Taystee Breadwinners, directed by Ben Selvin.
An article by James A. McFadden titled "Pioneers of Radio Forgotten" on page 13 of the August 13, 1936, edition of the San Francisco Examiner suggests that by this time the duo worked in relative obscurity. McFadden asks, "What has happened to those folks that pioneered the world of radio entertainment?...The names of Morton Downey...the 'Happiness Boys' Billy Jones and Ernie Hare, John and Ned...come to our mind."
Sponsored by the Gillette Safety Razor Company, they returned to network radio (CBS) in 1936, on Sundays performing with Milton Berle and others on the Community Sing program (the studio audience was directed in community singing). From that time until 1939, they were called "The Gillette Gentlemen." For three weeks during the illness that led to Hare's death, his 16 year-old daughter Marilyn substituted for him on radio. She worked with Jones briefly after her father's death.