A short introduction to Tommy Edwards
Tommy Edwards (1922-1969) was an R&B/jazz/pop American singer, songwriter and pianist, born in Richmond, Virginia. He had a considerably successful singing and songwriting career, with hit such as “The Morning Side Of The Mountain,” “Please Mr. Sun” (charted first in 1952, and then in 1958), “You Win Again,” “Love Is All We Need,” “My Melancholy Baby,” “I Really Don’t Want To Know” and his sole #1 hit “It’s All In The Game” (charted first in 1951, and then in 1958). Edwards had also performed that chart-topping song on The Ed Sullivan Show. His self-penned song “That Chick’s Too Young To Fry” became a respectable hit for Louis Jordan. Edwards died in 1969, supposedly of brain aneurysm; he was only 47 years old.
Thomas Edwards was born in the city of Henrico, Virginia, which is on the northwest edge of the city of Richmond. He grew up near Pemberton Elementary School, but because of segregation laws at the time, he went to the nearby Quioccasin School with other African-American kids. Thomas and Buena Vista Edwards, Tommy’s parents, saw that he could sing when he was only a few years old and pushed him to learn to play the piano. The family went to Quioccasin Baptist Church, where he was able to sing and develop his skills. Other family members were also musically oriented. His brother Nathan Edwards played trumpet, and his sister Harriet developed a good singing voice. At about the time he turned 17, in 1939, The Tommy Edwards Show started on WRNL radio 910; he sang popular songs and played the piano, and his talented siblings often joined him.
Tommy Edwards’ stint with MGM Records, and his first version of “It’s All in the Game”
Thomas “Tommy” Edwards was born in Richmond, Virgina on February 17, 1922. He was a talented young boy who had already been performing at age nine.
Edwards was determined to make a name for himself. And so he passed a demo of a song he wrote, “That Chick’s Too Young to Fry” to MGM Records in 1946. MGM was impressed and so it got Edwards a recording contract.
His first charting single on MGM was “All Over Again,” which made it to the Top 10 R&B in 1949. But his first real hit came two years later, with “It’s All in the Game” which reached the top of the R&B singles chart. It also peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“It’s All in the Game” was written in 1912 by Charles Dawes (who later went on to become country’s vice-president under the Coolidge adminstration) and lyricist Carl Sigman.
Tommy Edwards later went on to have more sizable hits including “Please Mr. Sun” (#22 pop, #18 R&B in 1952) and Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” (#13 pop in 1952).
1946 – The Deep River Boys and Bill Samuels and the Cats “N” Jammer Three covered “That Chick’s Too Young to Fry” by Edwards. Louis Jordan’s version reached number three on the race (later rhythm and blues) chart. In the fall of that year, Edwards’ raunchy song “My Bicycle Tillie” was released by Samuels’ band.
1947 – Edwards had established the Tommy Edwards Trio and had recorded for Top Records, some of which included his own compositions.
1949 – Edwards had signed a four-year contract with National Records, and his trio’s first recording, which included his novelty song “Up in the Alley,” was released. The next albums, which featured Edwards’s voice and piano playing on blues-influenced and upbeat songs, did not do well on the charts, and he and the label broke up.
1950 – In September 1950, Edwards signed with Signature Records. Even though that didn’t work out, his songwriting paid off again when Tony Bennett released “One Lie Leads to Another,” which had a swinging beat. Edwards was on the talent shows The Show Goes On and Songs for Sale, where his comedy “Paging Mr. Jackson” won first place. Soon after, country music star Red Foley put the song on a record. Edwards then told MGM Records about “All Over Again.” Executives gave him a contract because they liked his voice, and on November 30, he went into the recording studio.
1951 – When “Once There Lived a Fool” came out early in 1951, critics for Billboard and other music industry magazines said that it sounded like Nat King Cole and that Edwards was copying him. “The Morningside of the Mountain” reached number 24 on Billboard’s retail chart in July. Edwards had already recorded “It’s All in the Game” by that time. Carl Sigman wrote the words to the song “Melody in A Major,” which was written by Charles Gates Dawes, who went on to become Vice president of the United States. The ballad had been recorded by Louis Armstrong, Carmen Cavallaro, Sammy Kaye, and Dinah Shore, but it was Edwards’ version that reached number 18 on the charts that fall. “All Over Again,” which was on the other side, made the R&B chart. In a September 1951 ad in Variety, Edwards was called “A New Singing Star.” He also sang on Perry Como’s TV show and with the Woody Herman Orchestra in Montreal and Toronto.
1952 – In March 1952, a columnist for the Chicago Defender said that Edwards was “the most talked about singer along juke box row” because of how quickly he became famous. Edwards was on TV, did stage shows with Les Paul and Mary Ford, and went on a Caravan of Stars tour that stopped in Norfolk and Richmond with the Mills Brothers, Woody Herman Orchestra and Dinah Washington. Edwards did versions of popular songs like “You Win Again” and “Please Mr. Sun,” however, Doris Day, Johnny Ray, Jo Stafford, Perry Como, and Hank Williams performed better.
1953 – In February 1953, he was chosen as one of the most promising new male singers, but by May 1954, his career had stalled.
The Fall of Tommy Edwards
Between September 1955 and June 1958, Edwards did not record for MGM. He was often broke, so his friends in the music business gave him money. Edwards said that the rise of rock and roll in the mid-1950s was the reason for his decline, but his career had already been going downhill for a while. MGM marketed him as a black crooner similar to the label’s “Sepia Sinatra,” Billy Eckstine, but the richly orchestrated songs they chose for him were of mixed quality. For his part, soft-voiced Edwards rarely held a note out or built up to a crescendo, so the sweetly sung ballads became boring. His popularity might have lasted longer, though, if people hadn’t ignored his talent for writing fast-paced, lively music.
Edwards’ more successful version of “It’s All in the Game” in 1958
In 1958 Edwards returned with his old Top 20 pop hit “It’s All in the Game.” This later version was released again on MGM and featured the same orchestra leader in Leroy Holmes. However, this time the arrangement was otherwise different as the song was given a more rock-and-roll treatment. As a result, the single reached #1 on the US and UK singles charts. It sold over three million copies worldwide, making it Edwards’ most successful song ever in his entire career.
His following singles were less as successful, although some did decently on the charts. Among them are “Love Is All We Need” (#15 pop, 1958), his newer version of
“Please Mr. Sun” (#11 pop, 1959), “The Morning Side of the Mountain” (#27 pop, 1959), “My Melancholy Baby” (#26 pop, #27 R&B, #29 UK, 1959) and “I Really Don’t Want to Know” (#18 pop, 1960).
Edwards’ other songs had been re-recorded by a lot of artists including Elvis Presley, Louis Jordan, Cliff Richard, The Four Tops, Cathy Jean and the Roommates, and Bobby Vinton.
Aged only 47 years old, Edwards died of brain aneurysm on October 22, 1969 in Henrico County, Virginia.
Tommy Edwards Day
In 2008, on the 50th anniversary of his best-selling book, the mayor of Richmond made October 15 Tommy Edwards Day. The following year, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources put up a historical marker in Henrico County, near where Edwards had grown up.