Sammy Kaye and His “Sweet” Big Band Music


Introduction to Sammy Kaye

Sammy Kaye was a bandleader and songwriter who, during the Big Band era, was the chief figure of the “Sweet” bands whose numbers were not that danceable compared to the true “swing” but instead consisted of sentimental, light pop tunes.  Born in Ohio in 1910, his reputation as a musician began while still in college, and became a hit on Cincinnati radio.  When he became nationally famous, he hosted his own radio show on NBC called Sunday Serenade which was widely followed by fans of finely orchestrated music.  When he transferred to TV, Kaye staged a popular gimmick titled “So You Want to Lead a Band?” which participating audience members stepped onstage to try to conduct the orchestra.  He died in Lakewood, Ohio in 1987.

Early years of Sammy Kaye

American bandleader and songwriter Sammy Kaye was born Samuel Zarnocay Jr. on March 13, 1910 in Lakewood, Ohio. After graduating from Rocky River High School, Kaye attended the Ohio University.

Since Kaye had the talent to play saxophone and clarinet, he never went as a solo performer playing either of the two. During the Big Band era, Kaye eventually led a movement of “Sweet” bands — a big band music genre that were rarely “swing”-able in a true sense but it became popular among those who adored light, pop tunes.

Sammy Kaye’s orchestra consisted of musicians Ralph Flanagan, Dale Cornell, John Murawski, Sid Rhein and Marty Oscard and singers Don Cornell, Billy Williams, Tommy Ryan, Gary Willner, Barry Frank, Tony Russo and Nancy Norman. They released numerous records on a variety of labels (Vocalion, RCA Victor, Columbia and Bell imprints). An audience participation gimmick called “So You Want to Lead a Band?” made Kaye popular as well, where he would call an audience to conduct his orchestra, giving away batons as the prize. The tag line “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye” helped define the Big Band era.

“Remember Pearl Harbor”

Along with Statler Brothers’ Don Reid, Kaye wrote “Remember Pearl Harbor.” The two came up with the song right after the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. Acquiring the tune of Ohio University’s  “Alma Mater,” it was recorded for RCA VIctor and was performed by Sammy Kaye’s Swing and Sway Band and The Glee Club. The following year, “Remember Paul Harbor” climbed to the national chart at #3.

Kaye’s later years

During the 50s music era Kaye also managed to enter the Top 40 pop charts with his hit “Wanderin'” (at #11).

As one of the famous figures from the Big Band era, Kaye was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1992. Shortly thereafter, he was earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Kaye died on June 2, 1987 in Manhattan New York. His remains were returned to his hometown and buried next to his parents at Lakewood Park Cemetery.

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