Francis Craig

b. 10 September 1900, Dickson, Tennessee, USA, d. 19 November 1966, Sewanee, Tennessee, USA. Craig learnt to play the piano at an early age. After his military service in World War I, he formed a band to play at the Hermitage Hotel, in Nashville and stayed there for over 20 years, broadcasting regularly. Personalities associated with the band included Phil Harris, Dinah Shore and future Casa Loma Orchestra vocalist Kenny Sargent, also James Melton, later to sing tenor with the Metropolitan Opera. In 1947 he broke the parochial bonds and went national, recorded his own composition ‘Near You’ (lyric by Kermit Goell), featuring his distinctive piano style and a vocal by Bob Lamm. It was the first hit for the small independent Bullet label, sold over two million copies and was adopted by top comedian Milton Berle as his signature tune. Finance from the disc contributed to the setting up of the first record pressing plant in Nashville. The following year, ‘Beg Your Pardon’, another Craig composition (with Beasley Smith), also sold in large amounts and went to number 3 in the US charts. After his period in the spotlight Craig returned to comparative obscurity, but remained active until his death in 1966. His other compositions included ‘A Broken Heart Must Cry’, ‘Tennessee Tango’, and his signature tune ‘Red Rose’.

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