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Singin' Sam

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Performers who want to make records but never get the opportunity always envy those that do -- seen from this light, the performer known as Singin' Sam would be the supreme recipient of bad vibes emanating from what Rahsaan Roland Kirk called "the jealous bone." Not only did Singin' Sam make records in the traditional sense of singing on them, he also spent a great deal of time making records in the literal sense. Real name Harry Frankel, this man headed up the Gennett pressing and manufacturing plant located in Richmond, IN, in the '40s. Presumably, this gave him quite an edge over the usual round of performers loaded down with demo tapes and letters of solicitation. Singin' Sam could put out his music on records whether anybody else wanted him to or not -- all he had to do was enter his own factory and turn on the machines. In actuality this was hardly the case. Singin' Sam products sold very well, especially a trademark version of "Sleepy-Time in Caroline" as well as the popular "Dreamy Housatonic." Singin' Sam recorded the former tune not once but twice, beginning with a transcription disc made for the Coca-Cola company in the spring of 1942 and continuing with a session for producer Joe Davis in 1946. Davis, already a veteran publisher, A&R man, and label manager with several decades of experience under his belt, was the right man to recreate a '20s ambience on the later version of the song, bringing in session veterans from the roaring years such as keyboardist Frank Banta and the multi-instrumentalist Andy Sanella. Meanwhile promotional efforts for "Sleepy-Time in Caroline" included pitching it to the governors of the Carolinas, North and South. While the song was indeed popular, no official support ever materialized -- it has been speculated that South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond regretted that at least politically, things weren't actually sleepy enough in the Carolinas to justify making it the official state song. Thurmond would have approved of Frankel's professional beginnings, on the other hand. Inspired by minstrel performers, Frankel had become one of them by 1908, including his own shoeshine kit for "blacking up." He toured with the Al G. Field Minstrels and in a vaudeville duo, the Two Blackbirds. By the '30s broadcasting seemed a better performing opportunity, Frankel going to work for a lawn mower company and reinventing himself as Singin' Sam, the "lawnmower man." The personality stuck, although there would be a shift in products being promoted. In 1931 he went to work for Barbasol, still Singin' Sam but now the "Barbasol man." In 1934 he settled in Richmond with his wife, the performer Helene "Smiles" Davis. Staying put in Indiana became high priority, with the Barbasol contract reorganized to allow recording to be done in nearby Cincinnati and any and all offers that were further away turned down. The recording industry having left this area of the Midwest long ago, many music lovers might assume there is absolutely nothing to do in Richmond, IN. Not true: Frankel's grave can be visited in the Earlham Cemetary, complete with the epitaph: "Howdy folks. This is your old friend Singin' Sam." ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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Birth Name:

Harry Frankel

Years Active:

'10s, '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s