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'Sweet' bandleaderby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2006 Todd S. Jenkins
Throughout the 1930s and 40s, America’s “hot” swing bands did battle royal with the more restrained “sweet” bands for airplay and concert bookings. Many stars were born in that era, while many others faded away. One of the better, and most unfairly forgotten, sweet bandleaders was Blue Barron, who died in Baltimore on July 16, 2005 at 91 years of age. He was one of the last surviving leaders of the big band era.
Blue Barron was born Harry Freidman in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 19, 1913. After attending Ohio State University, he managed the up-and-coming Sammy Kaye band for a time, then decided to jump on the bandwagon with his own orchestra. Singer Russ Carlyle was the band’s vocal frontman for its first five years of existence. Freidman fabricated his enduring stage name in 1936, and two years later the Blue Barron Orchestra became the house band at New York’s Hotel Edison. Despite rarely leaving the confines of the city, Barron began to gain some national attention through radio broadcasts from the Edison. His theme song, “Sometimes I’m Happy”, was heard regularly on the airwaves across the Eastern U.S. The band’s repertoire, a combination of older standards and new works in the “sweet” mode, led to Barron adopting the slogan "Music of yesterday and today, styled the Blue Barron way."
Barron served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and returned to music immediately after his military tenure. His orchestra lasted well beyond the heyday of the sweet bands, although he didn’t come close to the endurance of leaders like Guy Lombardo. Between 1939 and the mid-1950s Barron’s band filmed several cinematic shorts and recorded a handful of hits, chiefly 1949’s “Cruisin’ Down the River”. But by 1956 his musical career had come to an end. Barron moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he worked as a real estate manager until his retirement.
Harry “Blue Barron” Freidman is survived by his sister, Clarisse Mechanic, of Baltimore.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.