Sunday, December 19, 2010

Helen Forrest

I've been enjoying a 2-record set on Columbia featuring Helen Forrest and her recordings with Benny Goodman in the 1940s. Out of curiosity I read her biography of Wikipedia, then I clicked on a reference to an article about her in 1972 in the Oakland Tribune. The reviewer was discussing a radio show called "40s Sounds Return to the Radio" and his dismissal of this music was abrupt and so emblematic of the time. Here's how it went.

This...visit to the 1940s might interest almost anyone. If you're of the rock generation you might want to hear the music of your parents--if nothing else for how they became the obsolete sentimentalists they are.

Yep, this attitude is what my father's generation had to endure. He would have been around my age now when he was hearing it.

Fortunately my father lived long enough to observe me fully appreciating this "sentimental" music. He'd be pleased today to learn how well it has endured.

Back to Helen Forrest. Irving Townsend in his liner notes to the album pays her a tremendous tribute.

The dream of every young singer in the late thrities and early forties was to sing with a name band...For one girl, Helen Forrest, the dream came true three times. She sang first with Shaw, then with Goodman, later with James. She must have been the luckiest girl in the world.
And yet, Helen Forrest was not the luckiest of singers after all, because it was her misfortune to make her mark as a singer before singers were in fashion. She was up there, the professional who had arrived while Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee were still dreaming the dream. She was the singer in a musicians' era, the only girl on the bus, the girl every girl envied while it seemed that Helen Forest had gone as far as a singer could hope to go. Her timing was unfortunate, for Helen Forrest, the madonna of the middle chorus, was and is one of the finest singers ever to sing a popular song. that is why she got there. But the first chorus still belonged to Benny...
These, then, are the songs and the sounds of the precarious period when the beat, the brass, and the bravura of the thirties was giving way to a time when words were to catch up with the music, when the singer took over the band.

She's completely deserving of these words. I cherish this album as much as I do my 2-record set of the recordings of Ivie Anderson and Duke Ellington.

Give Helen Forrest a listen! Here she is singing "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" with Benny Goodman and "I Only Have Eyes for You."

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