Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 16 Jan. '04, Linton IN; d 11 Aug. '95; the family said he was 89) Bandleader, singer, actor. Grew up in Nashville, played drums with Francis Craig; had own bands from mid-'30s, popular with novelty vocals but also hired good musicians; used 'Rose Room' as theme. First film '33 (starring role in Wabash Avenue '50; later played more or less straight roles in The High And The Mighty '54, comic cameo as a rich oilman in The Wheeler Dealers '63, voiced the bear and sang 'The Bare Necessities' in Disney's Jungle Book '67 etc). Own radio show '34 Let's Listen To Harris; joined Jack Benny show '36--46: band played on each programme, plus Harris had comedy role as stereotyped musician; own show '47--54 with wife Alice Faye (b Alice Jeanne Leppert, 5 May '12, NYC; d May '98; very popular singer became famous with Rudy Vallee in George White's Scandals on stage and film '30s; she made about 20 studio sides '34--7 but was best loved for her singing in films such as George White's Scandals '34 and '35; over 30 films incl. title role in Lillian Russell '40, remake of State Fair '62; albums incl. reissues from the '30s on various labels plus air checks, and album Sings Her Famous Movie Hits on Reprise c'62). Harris was a natural on early TV, continuing through '60s; later did C&W material. Best-known for novelty songs on RCA in '40s: 'That's What I Like About The South', 'Woodman, Spare That Tree', 'The Preacher And The Bear'; had hits with 'Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)' '47, 'The Old Master Painter' '49, no. 1 novelty 'The Thing' '50 (jaunty mystery about what was in the box: 'You'll never get rid of the [boom-ba-boom] no matter what 'cha do'). There were compilations on Sunbeam and Hindsight; a best-of on RCA International had all the novelties. Harris's comedy carried on an old tradition: 'The Preacher And The Bear' may have been the first record to sell two million copies and the biggest hit of the entire pre-1920 period, by Arthur Collins (b 7 Feb. 1864, Philadelphia; d 3 Aug. '33): this comedy/dialect artist had nearly 50 huge hits 1898--1920, about 90 more in duet with Bryan Harlan; he also sang with the Peerless and Big Four Quartets.