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The Four Vagabonds

The Four Vagabonds

P.S. I Love You

Like The Mills Brothers, The Four Vagabonds didn't require the presence of a band: the quartet could accurately mimic various instruments with their voices. Also like the Millses, radio played a giant role in rocketing the group to national fame.

Lead tenor John Jordan and baritone Norval Taborn joined forces with first tenor Robert O'Neal and bass singer and guitarist Ray Grant, Jr. at St. Louis' Vashon High School in 1933. The Vagabonds quickly proceeded from performing on a college radio station to a weekly half-hour on WIL and then a network slot on KSD, supplanting the Mills Brothers. In February of '36, the Vagabonds arrived in Chicago, snaring a regular spot on Don McNeill's NBC Blue Network radio program 'Breakfast Club.' For a solid decade, the quartet sang three songs a show for McNeill, three times a week. They also co-starred on another Blue Network show airing daily, 'Club Matinee,' from 1938 to 1945.

Naturally, all that national radio exposure grabbed the attention of the recording industry. The Four Vagabonds waxed their first sides for RCA Victor's Bluebird imprint in December of 1941, debuting with Slow And Easy. Each member specialized in imitating an instrument: Taborn mimicked a trumpet, Jordan and O'Neal manned the 'trombones,' and Grant stroked the simulated bass fiddle (very useful skills with the 1942-43 recording ban on the horizon). Their 1943 war ditties Rosie The Riveter and Comin' In On A Wing And A Prayer were well-received. After Bluebird, the Vagabonds made solitary singles for Victor, Atlas, and Mercury before joining the roster of Apollo Records in late 1946.

The quartet's rendition of the sentimental P.S. I Love You, written by Johnny Mercer and Gordon Jenkins in 1934 and first popularized by Rudy Vallee, was done at a March 26, 1947 Apollo date with only Grant's guitar supplementing the Vagabonds' supple harmonies and Jordan's velvet lead. Seven Apollo releases in all did little for the Vagabonds' overall fortunes—radio remained their primary medium—and they continued to tour nationally despite Grant losing his eyesight in 1945. They did take a break in late 1947 until Grant regained his sight in '49, but he left before year's end and was replaced by Bill Sanford. By then, the times were musically changing, and in 1952, The Four Vagabonds hung it up for good.

Bill Dahl

Various - Street Corner Symphonies Vol.01

1939-1949 The Complete Story Of Doo Wop

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