Vox Populi: The O'Shaughnessy Files

By William O’Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

COMPOSER–SONGWRITER–
SALOON SINGER:
MURRAY GRAND AT EIGHTY-FIVE

I’ve always had a great affinity for saloon singers, those
minstrels of the night who sit in a pencil spotlight astride
an out-of-tune piano, whispering sweet importunings into
the barroom gloom. Billy Joel described this dwindling
breed quite brilliantly in his classic “Piano Man.” They
are different from grand cabaret singers who emote and
perform for well-heeled swells in the few remaining
upscale venues like the Carlyle and Michael Feinstein’s at
Tisch’s Regency. Out of town, of course, these bards of
loneliness and longing are called lounge singers. By any
name, they’re very special—all who croon the blues in
near-empty rooms on lonely boulevards of broken dreams
in busted-out cities.

My favorites of the genre include Matt Dennis, the
composer and Sinatra pal (“Angel Eyes,” “Let’s Get Away
from It All,” “Violets for Your Furs”), and the regal,
incomparable Mabel Mercer. Even the great Sir Richard
Rodney Bennett loved to set aside his laurels and adopt
the mantle of a saloon singer of an evening. His own
composition “I Never Went Away from You” is a haunting
and lovely ballad, perfect for a nocturnal audience. And
some years ago I gave the eulogy at St. Monica’s Church
in Manhattan for wonderful, classy Hugh Shannon, who,
in his smoking jacket and velvet slippers, was best
described by the “ladies who lunch” and the international
set as a “society” singer. However, his last album was
called, appropriately and simply, “Saloon Singer.” Hugh
knew who he was, and so did more than a thousand tony
admirers who came to his funeral.

As I said, it’s a dying breed. But I’m glad Darryl Sherman
and Ronnie Whyte and Christyne Andreas and Marlene
VerPlanck and Peter Mintun and diva-like K. T. Sullivan

-213-

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