Radio stars (June 1933)

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RADIO STARS A famous band leader and fhree of the feminine members of his en- semble. Fred War- ing is the gentle- man's nameā€”just in case you didn't recognize him. Old Gold is his sponsor. The People's Choice MATUR ALNESS of delivery is an obsession of Sam's. Do you know he won't sing a song standing up? It makes him sound stiff, he says. Sitting down on the piano bench by the side of his accompanist, he relaxes and lets his personality flow into his music. The announcements he makes aren't written for him, either. Just notes, that's all. He phrases his own sentences, and if he feels like saying "ain't" or "h'aint," he says it. There is no denying people love him for it. In a world of broad A's and clipped R's, his drawl and his "down- home" sort of talk gets close to the heart. Listening, you know he knows the folks to whom he sings. To me, it is amazing how well he knows them. Still, when you think of it, why shouldn't he know them? He climbed all the small boy trees and broke all the small boy bones that are usual and in- evitable with small boys the country over. He fought his mother for four solid years because she wanted him to wear shoes and stockings and he wished to go barefooted. The first time he ran away from home, that dispute was the cause. He and a pal left, he told me, and marched seven miles up the Ohio river from Cincinnati where he lived before their naked feet betrayed them. A passing farmer gave them a lift back home, to his mother and her regime of shoes and stockings. Somehow, life often arrays mothers and sons on opposite sides of questions. At first Sam and his mother were no exceptions. Until the time he dis- 38 (Continued from page 32) obeyed her and she set out to punish him. Women in those days wore broad patent leather belts with huge glittery buckles. Sam's mother took off her belt and started to whip him. By mistake, she caught hold of the wrong end and the beavy buckle bit like a bullet into his young side. He fainted dead away. CORTUNATELY, he was not hurt badly. A doctor who came in re- sponse to the mother's panic-stricken plea assured her about that. Sam told me that the accident brought him closer to his mother than any other single ex- perience. Afterward she never whipped him again. And Sam never disobeyed. During those growing years she be- came his staunchest champion. Even when he played hooky from school, when he threw over a business job after putting in a year learning shorthand and typewriting, when he joined a min- strel show and got himself stranded without a cent to his name, even when his father prophesied he would come to no good end. Most of his hardships Sam never told her about. Those weeks in Chicago, for instance, when he had to "busk" for iiis food. "Buskin'," you probably don't know, is the old minstrel term applied to down-and-outers who go into a saloon's backroom and sing to the patrons for a free lunch. It's a meager way of (lining, Sam told me, and I can believe it. There were other days when, with an uncertain job as a minstrel end-man, he jumped from cross-roads village to country town. Poverty-dodging Sam calls it. Sometimes he was too poor to buy the burnt cork that is a minstrel's inky make-up. The emergency was met by scraping together a roll of news- paper and burning it. In those days, theatres had almost no running water backstage. To remove their make-up, the minstrels were al- lotted a pail of water apiece. Many a winter night in mid-western towns, Sam went back to his bucket and had to break the ice in order to wash. Of those things, he said very little when he wrote his mother. On the other hand, his successes were faithfully chronicled. And she gloried in them as only a mother can. L-JIS first appearance in New York was an unforgettable triumph. That was eighteen or twenty years ago at Min- er's Bowery Theatre. She still has the clippings he sent her. Sam took a room across from the stage door and didn't stray away once during the week he played. He was afraid if he ever got beyond sight of the gaudy vaudeville house, he would never find his way back. When I learned all these things about him, I began to understand why he is the people's choice as an entertainer. Maybe it is because fishermen have a way of getting down to fundamentals that puts life's frills in their proper place. Or maybe it is that boys whose mothers back them up when they leave home to face the world, as Sam's backed him up, somehow keep their feet pretty solidly on the path they have been trained so carefully to walk.