Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b James Harold Kemp, 27 March 1904, Marion AL; d 21 Dec. 1940 CA following a car crash) Reeds, bandleader. He led one of the most popular dance bands of the 1930s, with more than 60 hit records. He began at the University of North Carolina '24-6; the Carolina Club Orchestra recorded on Perfect and OKeh. He toured Europe '30 with trumpeter Bunny Berigan, in August making the first international music broadcast from the Caf de Paris in London. At the end that year newspapers reported that Kemp was broadcasting more than any other dance band, and he active on radio through the decade: The Chesterfield Show '37 featured Kay Thompson in New York for months, then Alice Faye in Hollywood.

Key men were with him from the start: pianist-arranger John Scott Trotter (b 14 June '08, Charlotte NC; d 30 Oct. '75), sax/vocalist Saxie Dowell (b 29 May '04, NC; d '68), vocalist/ drummer Skinnay Ennis (b Robert Ennis, 13 Aug. '09, Salisbury NC; d 3 June '63). The band played semi-hot at first, then turned sweeter but could still swing; Kemp composed his pretty theme '(How I'll Miss You) When The Summer Is Gone'; Trotter created a distinctive style, muted trumpets playing clipped notes (often triplets) against reeds (often low-register clarinets), through megaphones for effect. Claude Thornhill contributed arrangements in the early years; other bandleaders who passed through, many with their own entries in this book, included trumpeters Russ Case and Randy Brooks, guitarist Dave Barbour and pianist Slatz Randall.

Bob Allen (c.1913-88) joined '34, a big baritone singing ballads. Tommy Dorsey tried to hire Allen twice, once to replace Jack Leonard in '39 and again a year later when Dorsey was sore at Frank Sinatra, but Allen refused to leave Kemp. After Kemp's death Allen led a band with Brooks and Henry Mancini (see their entries), but his men kept getting drafted; Dorsey hired him to replace Dick Haymes, but Allen could not record with Dorsey on account of the musicians union strike, and then was drafted himself. After WWII he sang with Carmen Cavallaro and Isham Jones.

Skinnay Ennis's breathless style was featured on some of Kemp's biggest hits: 'Got A Date With An Angel' was recorded twice; no. 1 hits were 'There's A Small Hotel' and 'When I'm With You' '36, 'This Year's Kisses' and 'Where Or When' '37. He left Kemp '38 and became Bob Hope's radio bandleader '39-45 (with a hiatus military service, when Hope's bandleaders included Allen, Desi Arnaz and Stan Kenton); for a while Ennis had Thornhill and Gil Evans as arrangers, then a team of Hal Mooney and Trotter. He later led a radio band for Abbott & Costello. Other boy singers with Kemp included Donald Novis '33, Tony Martin '38; girl singers included Maxine Gray, Deane Janis, Nan Wynn, Claire Martin and Janet Blair. Vocal trio The Smoothies (aka Babs and her Brothers) had previously worked with Fred Waring.

Trotter had left at the end of 1935, after asking for a raise and being turned down; he wrote some arrangements for the Bing Crosby film Pennies From Heaven, became head of A&R at ARC Records, then was asked by Crosby to replace Jimmy Dorsey as his bandleader on the Kraft Music Hall program, and remained Crosby's music director into the early '50s. He died in '75 just after writing arrangements for a Boston Pops program on PBS. Hal Mooney (b 4 Feb. '11, Brooklyn NY; d 23 March '95, L.A.) replaced Trotter as Kemp's arranger; he had written instrumentals 'Swamp-Fire' (played by Ozzie Nelson '35) and 'Rigmarole' (first recorded by Les Brown '37) and later became head of A&R at Mercury Records in the 1950s. Among Mooney's assistants with Kemp was Lou Busch, who married Blair and later found fame as 'ragtime' pianist Joe 'Fingers' Carr. Dowell left early '39 on the strength of his hit novelty 'Three Little Fishies' which he wrote and sang. He was a bandleader in Chicago, and wrote 'Playmates' '40 (hit recordings by Kay Kyser and Mitchell Ayres). He was something of a war hero aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin '45, then returned to Chicago and bandleading again, ending up a likeable disc jockey on Chicago radio.