It seems as if there have always been certain singers who at some point in their careers become a target for snickers — not necessarily because of a lack of talent, but for other reasons. A familiar example is Slim Whitman, who was successful for years in Europe but eventually sold a lot of records in the US when he began marketing his music on TV. That route to success – coupled with his yodeling vocal stylings – helped make him snicker-worthy, and he was later skewered in the movie Mars Attacks! when his “Indian Love Call” was used to implode the heads of the invading Martians.
Another singer – albeit one with a very different singing style – was at times called “The Voice with Hairs on Its Chest” and “Old Leather Tonsils,” but he was actually a solid baritone with a good musical foundation. And even though he’s not mentioned much these days, he was a big star in his time.
Vaughn Monroe was born in Ohio, but grew up in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. As a boy, he was determined to be a musician, working hard to make himself a good trumpet player while at the same time nursing an ambition to be a opera singer. By the time he began to break into music it was the 1930’s – the heyday of the big bands – and he soon found himself performing as a vocalist for a variety of groups. Although his singing style was sort of straight-ahead and unadventurous, it suited his audience just fine, and over the next few years the tall, broad-shouldered singer began to build his name.
Around 1940 Vaughn organized his own band, and although it was not known as a cutting-edge jazz group, it was very popular and was the perfect vehicle for his vocals. He began generating a number of big-selling records that established him as a star. Some of his hits included “Racing With The Moon” (his theme song), “Let’s Get Lost,” and “My Devotion.” Through the rest of the decade, Vaughn continued to churn out hits, including “There! I’ve Said It Again,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and “Riders In The Sky,” a tune that was a big success for him but didn’t provide the hoped-for transition into Hollywood western stardom. (Unfortunately, the song did inspire Spike Jones to record an infamous satire.)
By the 1950’s Vaughn had disbanded his orchestra, and although he was still a big name his singing career had cooled. He found some success hosting a number of shows in TV and radio, and continued to record when possible but his career inevitably wound down. He died in 1973 after a long and rewarding life in music, but it’s a shame that he wasn’t around when things cycled and critics gave another listen to his music. Most now feel that he had a solid, full baritone that might have even allowed him to try opera.