- Ted Lewis (musician)
Infobox musical artist
Name = Ted Lewis
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = Theodore Leopold Friedman
Born = birth date|1892|6|6
Died = death date and age|1971|8|25|1892|6|6
Origin = flagicon|USA
Musician Bandleader Singer Entertainer
Years_active = 1917 – 1968
Earl Fuller's Famous Jass Band
Theodore Leopold Friedman, better known as Ted Lewis (
June 6, 1892– August 25, 1971), was an American entertainer, bandleader, singer, and musician. He led a band presenting a combination of jazz, hokey comedy, and schmaltzy sentimentality that was a hit with the American public. He was known by the moniker "Mr. Entertainment".
Circleville, Ohio, Lewis was one of the first Northern musicians to start imitating the New Orleansjazz musicians who came up to New York in the teens. He first recorded in 1917 with Earl Fuller's Jass Band, who were making an energetic if somewhat clumsy attempt to copy the sound of the city's newest sensation, the Original Dixieland Jass Band. At the time, Lewis didn't seem to be able to do much on the clarinet other than trill. (Promoting one recording the Victor catalog stated:"The sounds as of a dog in his dying anguish are from Ted Lewis' clarinet"). He improved a bit later, forming his style from the influences of the first New Orleans clarinetists to reside in New York, Larry Shields, Alcide Nunez, and Achille Baquet.
By 1919 Lewis was leading his own band, and had a recording contract with
Columbia Records, which marketed him as their answer to the Original Dixieland Jass Band who recorded for Victor records. At the start of the 1920s he was considered by many people without previous knowledge of jazz (that is to say, most of America) to be one of the leading lights of hot jazz. Lewis's clarinet playing never evolved beyond his style of 1919 which in later years would sound increasingly corny, but Lewis certainly knew what good clarinet playing sounded like, for he hired musicians like Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, and the wonderful (and, unfortunately, largely forgotten) Don Murray to play clarinet in his band. For years his band also included jazzgreats Muggsy Spanieron trumpet and George Brunison trombone. Ted Lewis's band was second only to the Paul Whitemanin popularity during the 1920s, and arguably played more real jazz with less pretension than Whiteman, especially in his recordings of the late 1920s.
Lewis's band got cornier and schmaltzier as the
Great Depressionwore on, but this seemed to match the general public's taste, as he kept commercially successful during an era when many bands broke up. Through it all he retained his famous catchphrase, "Is everybody happy?". Lewis adopted a battered top hat for sentimental, hard-luck tunes (he called himself "the high-hatted tragedian of song"). Frequently he would stray from song lyrics, improvising chatter around them. This gave the effect of Lewis "speaking" the song spontaneously: "When ma' baby... when ma' baby smiles at me... "gee," what a wonderful, wonderful "light" that "comes" to her eyes... look at that "light, "folks..."
Lewis and his band appeared in a few early-talkie movie musicals in 1929, notably the
Warner Brothersrevue "Show of Shows". The first of several films bearing Lewis' catch phrase "Is Everybody Happy?" premiered that same year. 1935 saw Lewis and his band performing several numbers in the film " Here Comes the Band". In 1941 the band was recruited at the last minute to furnish musical numbers for the Abbott and Costellocomedy " Hold That Ghost", and additional numbers were used in a short subject, another film entitled "Is Everybody Happy?" In 1943 Columbia Picturesmounted a screen biography of Lewis, yet again titled "Is Everybody Happy?", with actor Michael Duane portraying the bandleader and miming to Lewis's recordings.
Lewis kept his band together through the 1950s, and continued to make appearances on
televisionand in Las Vegas into the 1960s. True to his vaudevillebeginnings, he created a visual as well as a musical act. His physical presence with props like his top hat combined with bits of visual humor and dancing were as important to him as his music. One of his most memorable songs was " Me and My Shadow" with which he frequently closed his act. During the song he danced on stage with his own, spotlight-generated, shadow. In Vegas, a dancer was added to duet with Lewis' shadow on stage. [ [http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/music/artist/bio/0,,458704,00.html "Ted Lewis" "Artists Direct"] ] He died in New York Cityin 1971. In June 1977, Lewis's widow and friends dedicated the Ted Lewis Museum and park in his honor in his home town of Circleville, Ohio.
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