Although his name might not be a familiar one to current music fans, Orrin Tucker led a very popular orchestra during the big band era. Those who do remember him might also recall that his biggest hit was “Oh Johnny,” with vocal by ‘Wee’ Bonnie Baker. It was just one of the band’s half-dozen million-selling records, but Tucker also achieved something that was very rare — if not unique — among the bandleaders from those days. He continued to remain musically active into his eighties, and when he died in April of this year he was 100 years old.
The St. Louis native studied medicine but gravitated to music, learning to play saxophone well enough to turn pro and begin leading his own band. Although it struggled at first, his group began to rise to prominence in the late 1930s and eventually became the very first outfit to sign with a new record company — Columbia — that would become a giant in the industry.
Although Tucker had handled the singing duties in the early days, the band’s success was helped along when he hired tiny Bonnie Baker as a vocalist, and it was as ‘Wee Bonnie’ that she made her name on the chart-topper “Oh Johnny.” Other big records for the band included its theme song, “Drifting and Dreaming,” “You’re The One For Me,” and “Everybody Loves My Baby.”
As the decades passed, Tucker embraced a sweet, easy-listening style of music for his bands, and found a lot of success appearing at large hotels, resorts, and clubs. Although he eventually became mostly retired, he continued to be musically active into the 1990s and was honored by his home city with a star on its Walk of Fame.