Ray Starita

Elsie Carlisle’s recordings in 1932 with Ray Starita  and His Ambassadors are amongst her best. It is also worth noting that he played the tenor sax in her 1927 recordings with the Gilt-Edged Four.

The Starita Family – John Wright

“You’ll Find Out” (1932)

“You’ll Find Out.” Words and music composed by Archie Gottler and Betty Treynor (a pseudonym of Lawrence Wright) for On with the Show. Recorded in London on June 15, 1932 by Ray Starita and His Ambassadors with vocalists Elsie Carlisle and Sam Browne. Sterno 984 mx. S-2477-2.

Personnel: Ray Starita-cl-ts dir. Nat Gonella-t / t / tb / prob. Chester Smith-cl-as-bar-o / Nat Star-cl-as / George Glover-cl-ts-vn / George Hurley-vn / Harry Robens-p / George Oliver-bj-g / Arthur Calkin-sb / Rudy Starita-d

Ray Starita and his Ambassadors – You’ll Find Out – 1932

Transfer by Henry Parsons

Between 1932 and 1937, Elsie Carlisle would make some 42 record sides with Sam Browne, most famously with Ambrose and His Orchestra, but occasionally also with other bands. The two singers became best known for on-shellac vituperative bickering (the best examples being found in “Seven Years with the Wrong Woman,” “What’s Good for the Goose Is Good for the Gander,” and “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You”). But their fictional relationships could be much more playful and subtle, as we see here in “You’ll Find Out,” which they recorded with Ray Starita’s band.

“You’ll Find Out” was a joint composition of American songwriter Archie Gottler and the prolific British composer Lawrence Wright, who most frequently used the pseudonym “Horatio Nicholls.” (His pseudonym used here — “Betty Treynor” — may have been a one-off.) As far as I can tell, this West End musical song was only recorded one other time; that recording, from April 1932, featured Sam Browne with Billie Lockwood under the Zonophone pseudonyms “Jack and Jill.” Now, “Jack and Jill” numbers, while delightful, tend to be comparatively sedate, and that is definitely the case with the Browne-Lockwood version. The two singers slowly take their turns delivering the increasingly suggestive lyrics, leaving the song’s comic sensibility underdeveloped.

Browne and Carlisle, in the Ray Starita recording of the song, uncover the composition’s potential. Part of their success is due to an audible chemistry that few duettists could match. But just as important is their phrasing as they deliver the lyrics. The joke of the song is that the young couple asks each other questions that seem to answer themselves: “What do lovers do out in the moonlight?” “What will we do evenings when it’s raining?” Supposing I must leave you for a week or two / And you haven’t got as single thing to do / How would you spend all those lonesome evenings?” Answered with “You’ll find out!” the questions suggest sex, infidelity, and the like.

The repeated punchline risks seeming monotonous. But we hear Sam and Elsie breaking up that monotony by altering the line “You’ll find out” in such a way as to dramatize it. “You’ll find out” gives way to “Ah! You’ll find out…”; “Could I? You’ll find out!”; “Oh, but…you’ll find out!”; “It is! You’ll find out…”; “Hmm… You’ll find out!” and finally, “Try and find out!” By varying the response, they produce something resembling a witty, funny conversation.

The vocal chorus is unusually long in this dance band recording, and the arrangement is remarkably sophisticated. Ray Starita’s musicians remain comparatively quiet during the vocal refrain, but as it progresses they build momentum and come in strong at the end. Starita’s band was brassless at the time, and one gets the sense from the powerful sax section work in “You’ll Find Out” that the orchestra could execute a dynamically scored arrangement without  trumpets and trombone — instruments added only for recording purposes in Starita’s 1932 British Homophone sessions.1

Notes:

  1. My thanks to Henry Parsons for reminding me of this latter point.

“Rock Your Cares Away” (1932)

“Rock Your Cares Away.” Words and music by Leonard Blitz (as Leo Towers), Harry Sugarman (as Harry Leon), Lawrence Wright (as Horatio Nicholls) (1932). Recorded in London on November 5, 1932 by Rudy Starita and His Ambassadors with vocalist Elsie Carlisle. 4 in 1 – 17 mx. X-218-2.

Personnel: probably Nat Star-cl-as dir. / Nat Gonella-t / t / tb / cl-as / cl-ts / vn / p / bj-g / bb-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x

Elsie Carlisle – “Rock Your Cares Away” (1932)

It is a little difficult to taxonomize this recording of “Rock Your Cares Away” by bandleader. It is clearly Ray Starita’s band, as is indicated on the label of the Sterno recording made at the same session (Sterno and 4 in 1 were both products of the British Homophone Company), but Ray had not returned from a vacation to America the previous summer and so could not have directed the music. The 4 in 1 record from the session mentions not Ray, but his brother Rudy Starita, the percussionist who did eventually take over control of the band from his brother. And yet Rust and Forbes think it likely that this particular session was led by Nat Star, who was generally in charge of dance music at Homophone.1

Whoever directed it, the result was a memorable piece of lively dance band music. The lyrics of “Rock Your Cares Away” exhort us to cast away gloom, live in the moment, and “…rock [our] cares away / In a cradle of dreams.” The Star/Starita 4 in 1 version is uptempo; Elsie Carlisle’s vocal refrain, while brief, is memorable for its ebullience. Her enthusiastic delivery is infectious and evocative of a carefree mental state, and she gets across the song’s message through raw energy rather than mere earnestness.

“Rock Your Cares Away” was also recorded in 1932 by Billy Cotton and His Band (v. Cyril Grantham), Ray Noble and His New Mayfair Orchestra (v. Al Bowlly), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Pat O’Malley), and Ambrose and His Orchestra (with an unidentified vocalist).

Notes:

  1. Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes. British Dance Bands on Record, 1911 to 1945, and Supplement. Bungay, Suffolk: Richard Clay, Ltd., 1989, 1021-1022.

“Mad about the Boy” (1932)

“Mad about the Boy.” Words and music by Noël Coward for the 1932 revue Words and Music. Recorded in London on November 5, 1932 by Rudy Starita and His Ambassadors with vocalist Elsie Carlisle. 4 in 1 – 17 mx. X-218-2.

Personnel: probably Nat Star-cl-as dir. / Nat Gonella-t / t / tb / cl-as / cl-ts / vn / p / bj-g / bb-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x

Rudy Starita and His Ambassadors (v. Elsie Carlisle) – “Mad About the Boy” (1932)

“Mad about the Boy” must be one of Sir Noël Coward’s most successful compositions, especially if we measure success by the fact that the song continues to be recorded and even used in advertising many decades after its debut on the London stage. It originated in the 1932 revue Words and Music, whose words, music, script, and direction were all done by Coward himself; the show included other memorable songs such as “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” and “Let’s Say Goodbye.” “Mad about the Boy” was sung on stage by a cast of female characters — a society lady, a prostitute, a schoolgirl, and a Cockney servant — who describe their passion for a movie star as they wait in line to see one of his films. The lyrics are predictably witty, using a surprising variety of rhymes for the monosyllables “mad” and “boy”.1

It is not clear whether the song was meant to reference a specific film actor. A great deal of effort has been put into identifying an unrequited real-life crush that Coward is said to have had on some American actor (the name Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. comes up frequently). Coward may have contributed to the idea that the song had a homosexual theme by writing verses for a businessman character to sing in the New York version:

…I’m mad about the boy
And even Doctor Freud cannot explain
Those vexing dreams
I’ve had about the boy.
When I told my wife
She said
“I never heard such nonsense in my life!”
Her lack of sympathy
Embarassed me
And made me frankly glad about the boy.

(The character was cut from the production — the idea may have been too risqué for its time.)2 I find it ultimately unnecessary, however, to assume that the “boy” of “Mad about the Boy” must have a specific, real-world analogue — in any case, infatuation with an inaccessible celebrity is a very common occurrence.

Elsie Carlisle’s versions of “Mad about the Boy” were made with Ray Starita’s band, but in the bandleader’s absence — Ray had gone on vacation to America in the summer of 1932 and never returned to England. There are quite a few records whose labels read “Ray Starita and His Ambassadors” that were likely made without him; one of the records with “Mad about the Boy” on them (4 in 1 – 17) is the first to specifically mention Ray’s brother Rudy Starita instead. Yet Rust and Forbes hesitate to say that Rudy was actually the musical director for that session, writing that it was probably Nat Star who played that role.3 It should be noted that the band and Elsie recorded takes for two records of “Mad about the Boy” that day, a Sterno and a 4 in 1 (both products of the British Homophone Company).

The other dance bands’ arrangements of “Mad about the Boy” exclusively used the society lady’s lines from the Words and Music review. For some reason, the Starita band had Elsie sing the prostitute’s verse, which is rather more edgy:

I’m hardly sentimental;
Love isn’t so sublime.
I have to pay my rental,
And I can’t afford to waste much time.

Elsie’s alternately weepy and enraptured vocal complements the band’s funereally melancholy yet infectiously catchy treatment of the tune. Her evocation of a street-walker’s brooding obsession with a Hollywood persona is really quite convincing.

Other British bands who recorded “Mad About the Boy” in 1932 were Ray Noble and His New Mayfair Orchestra, who did an instrumental version and included it in Words and Music medley, the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (dir. Carroll Gibbons / v. Cecile Petrie), the Debroy Somers Band (in a Words and Music medley), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (v. Phyllis Robins), The Blue Lyres (dir. Bert Ambrose / v. Anona Winn), and The Blue Mountaineers (v. Sam Browne). In 1932 Coward’s close friend and professional associate Gertrude Lawrence would record a version that includes the society lady’s intro. Coward himself recorded “Mad about the Boy” in 1932, but his version was not issued during his lifetime.

Notes:

  1. Stephen Citron. Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates. United Kingdom: Hal Leonard, 2005, 318.
  2. Sheridan Morely. Noël Coward. London: Haus, 2005, 57.
  3. Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes. British Dance Bands on Record, 1911 to 1945, and Supplement. Bungay, Suffolk: Richard Clay, Ltd., 1989, 1021-1022.

“I Heard” – Ray Starita with Elsie Carlisle (1932)

“I Heard.”  Words and music by Don Redman (1931).  Recorded by Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band with Elsie Carlisle on September 1, 1932.  Four-in-One 5 mx. X149-2.

Personnel: Ray Starita-cl-ts dir. Nat Gonella- t/ t / tb / ?Chester Smith-cl-as-bar-o / Nat Star-cl-as / George Glover-cl-ts-vn / George Hurley-vn / Harry Robens-p / George Oliver-bj-g / Arthur Calkin-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x

Ray Starita and His Ambassadors (v. Elsie Carlisle) – “I Heard” (1932)

“I Heard” is a novelty song written by the American musician, bandleader, and composer Don Redman.  It involves interlocutors who discuss a piece of apparently scandalous  gossip, but who cut each other off so as to leave the listener in the dark as to the real nature of the rumor.  A reference to “the birds in the spring, and the rabbits,” and the threat that “They’re gonna name it after you!” suggest a love affair with an illegitimate offspring. This 1932 British recording was made by the great American-born bandleader Ray Starita and his Ambassadors’ Band.  Elsie Carlisle plays the person who has heard the rumor, and there is a male speaker who questions her, doubts her, and eggs her on.  The latter was once thought to be Ray Starita himself, although it is now more generally supposed that it is Les Allen.

This recording of “I Heard” appears on a Four-in-One record.  As the name would suggest, Four-in-One records pushed the limits of technology by fitting two songs onto each side of the disc, the result being a bargain for the record buyer.  The downside of their concept is that the grooves are a bit narrower than usual and thus more prone to being scratched up by repeated playing.  In the same recording session, Starita and Elsie did a separate take for the Sterno label, which used the more typical one-song-per-side approach.  The Sterno recording is quite similar for the most part, but the violin solo is rather different and does not reach into such a high register.

The composer, Don Redman, recorded two versions of “I Heard” in late 1931 (here and here), and in 1933 appeared in a Betty Boop short of the same title.  In 1932 it was recorded by Harlan Lattimore and His Connie’s Inn Orchestra, as well as by Chick Bullock.  The Mills Brothers did a particularly popular 1932 version that led to their appearance singing it in the 1934 film Twenty Million Sweethearts.

In Britain in 1932, other recordings of “I Heard” were made by the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (Al Bowlly, vocalist), Billy Cotton and His Band ( Cyril Grantham, vocalist), Nat Gonella, and Harry Roy and His R.K. Olians (with vocalists Harry Roy, Bill Currie, and Ivor Moreton).

“Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon” (1932)

“Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon.” Words and music by Hartwell “Harty” Cook, W. Mercer Cook, and J. Russel Robinson. Recorded by Ray Starita and His Ambassadors with vocalist Elsie Carlisle on September 1, 1932. Four-in-One 6 mx. S2557-2.

Personnel: Ray Starita-reeds dir. Nat Gonella-t / tb / prob. Chester Smith-reeds / Nat Star-reeds / George Glover-reeds-vn / George Hurley-vn / George Oliver-g / Arthur Calkin-sb / Rudy Starita-d-vib-x1

Ray Starita and His Ambassadors (w. Elsie Carlisle) – “Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon” (1932)

“Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon (My Man’s Gone)”2 is a 1932 composition by Harty Cook, Mercer Cook, and J. Russel Robinson (the latter two also produced the popular “Is I in Love? I Is” that same year). In this song, the singer makes almost Biblical demands for the powers of nature — and technology, for that matter — to cease their usual operations, for she has lost her man. This sort of theme was suited to Elsie Carlisle’s dramatic manner of delivery, and in this recording her impassioned complaint serves as a fitting summation to the pulsating instrumental interpretation of the tune by Ray Starita and His Ambassadors’ Band. They would do another take of the song that day with Elsie, and it appears on Sterno 1028.

There were recordings of “Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon” in America that year by Joel Shaw and His Orchestra (with vocals by Dick Robertson), Dick Robertson and His Orchestra (with vocalist Chick Bullock), the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra (with the Boswell Sisters), Chick Bullock and His Levee Loungers (with Chick Bullock singing), the Ted Dahl Orchestra, and Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (with vocalist Mildred Bailey).

In addition to the two record sides made by Ray Starita with Elsie Carlisle, there was a 1932 British version of “Stop the Sun, Stop the Moon” by Ambrose and His Orchestra (with vocalist Sam Browne).

Notes:

  1. According to Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes, British Dance Bands on Record (1911-1945) and Supplement (1989), p. 1021.
  2. The subtitle of the song is also found as “My Gal’s Gone” when the singer is a man.

"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.